Why universal health coverage might be cheaper than it looks...

(Politics, Personal)

2013-10-22 16:13
Comment [1]

Been thinking about this for a long time. Medical costs in the US are unreasonably high, for unusually poor results, and that’s been true for a while. But it seems pretty reasonable, at first glance, to assert that providing health coverage for all the people who don’t have it will be pretty expensive.

I think it is likely to be less expensive than it seems, and perhaps more importantly, to produce significant additional funds which could cover those expenses.

A bit of background, since people outside the US often have no idea how strange our system is. In general, medical care in the US is nearly all processed under a “health insurance” model; you buy “coverage” from a company, who then treats it a lot like an insurance product. So, you pay premiums, then if you need things paid for, you pay out some sort of deductible or copay, and they pay the rest. Only, in most cases, you pay only a very small part of the premiums, with the rest paid for by your employer. There are some reasons for which this may not be as insane as it seems at first to most people not from around here, but mostly it’s for historical reasons. As I understand it, back around WWII, the government placed salary caps on hiring, so companies started looking for non-salary ways to improve the deals they were offering people, and “we’ll cover your medical expenses” was one of them.

This produces a lot of very strange outcomes, such as losing health coverage when you lose your job, so we have large and elaborate schemes to allow people to continue their existing health coverage. In general, though, the default has been that if you don’t have a job with health coverage, or a parent (if you’re young) or spouse with health coverage, you have no health coverage, and can’t get any unless you are healthy and considered a “good risk”.

And yes, that really does mean people going without any treatment at all because they can’t afford it, or getting treated and then being bankrupted as a result. Until the 80s, in fact, people would indeed be turned away from emergency rooms or redirected to other hospitals, and die in transit, because they couldn’t pay. So we added a new rule: Emergency rooms have to treat people who have emergency-room type conditions, or women in labor. But this doesn’t specify how that gets paid for. So, in general, people who can’t afford medical care wait until they have something emergency-room worthy, then show up and get very expensive treatment, which they can’t pay for. So the hospital averages those costs up and spreads them to everyone else’s care. Which is to say: Who pays for it is everyone else, indirectly, proportionally to how often they are using hospital or clinic services. And since those costs are in turn often being defrayed over insurance networks, they end up affecting health care premiums.

And a lot of the time, the people involved can’t do anything about it, since they simply can’t get health insurance coverage to begin with.

Enter the “Affordable Care Act”, which is basically modeled on a system that had been used in Massachusetts for a while, only done very badly for a number of political reasons. The basic premise is this: We require insurers to accept anyone, even “bad risks”, and prohibit them from ceasing to cover people who get sick. This solves some of our problems, but then they have the problem that if only sick people buy insurance, the costs go up even faster. So we also mandate that absolutely everyone buys the coverage, so the pool is “the entire population”. This is basically just like what most modern countries do, only we have an extra layer of middle-men taking a cut of the cash flow. But, it’s a thing that allows us to basically expand our existing system rather than overhauling things.

If this works as intended, which isn’t obvious, it’s supposed to reduce costs. One of the ways in which it would do this is increasing the chances that people will get things treated earlier rather than later, and I think that’s quite likely to actually happen. Furthermore, if all the people showing up at emergency rooms do have some kind of coverage, the “overhead” charges from uncovered visits won’t be getting spread around to all the other health care. That might actually work.

But today, on my third day of being too sick to work, I am reminded of another side of this: The side where I think it is likely to increase tax revenues and the general health of our economy. See, people get sick sometimes. Not “have to go to the emergency room” sick, just a general cold or flu or something. And in the US, if you have a lower-end job without health coverage, missing work can get you fired. You might be able to keep your job if you can present a statement from a doctor that you really are sick and need the time to recover, but if you can’t afford to go see a doctor, that doesn’t happen.

Some years back (long before we were married or even in contact with each other), this happened to Jesse. He got a nasty cold in mid-to-late fall, quite a lot like the one I had now. And he tried to get a couple of days off work to recover, and his boss wouldn’t let him. So he’d get one day off, then get told he had to make it in or lose his job the next day. And he’d come in, not yet recovered, and travelling through snowy weather, and get sicker, and this went back and forth until he lost the job. And then became homeless.

And what I’d like to stress here, for the benefit of the people who are so concerned about the costs of this system, is: The cost of our existing system, in that case, was all the taxes that were being paid on his wages over the next couple of months while he tried to recover enough to be able to work and then find a new job. If he’d been able to get to a doctor, get treated, and get the two or three consecutive days off he needed, he would have kept plugging away, with various money from his paychecks going to fund the state and federal governments. Instead, he stopped for quite a while, and consumed social services like food stamps. And that kind of thing sort of adds up over time. And I think people tend to ignore the huge opportunity costs we are paying for not treating illnesses competently and in a timely fashion because we’re too worried about the visible and direct costs.

Me? I work from home, so I worked for about two hours today, then concluded it was unwise to keep standing anymore, so I sent out a couple of emails and went to go do things that are not going to cost my employer money if I screw them up. And they pay my salary for a couple of days, and they don’t worry about whether I have a note from my doctor, and if I do get to the point where I need a doctor, I just go see one, and they keep getting programs and I keep getting money and paying taxes. And everyone wins.

Peter Seebach


Comment [1]


FF14: A Realm Reborn. Review/commentary


2013-09-24 15:50
Comment [3]

Overall summary: A fairly good game, with a mix of some really cool things and some spectacular stupidity. The things that are wrong, frequently it’s simply mind-numbing that anyone could possibly have thought this would be okay, or taken the extra time it would take to get them wrong. The things that are right are often quite good.

FF14:ARR is a “reboot” of an existing MMO. FF14’s initial launch was summarized pretty well as “catgirls are adorable, rest of the game is bad”. The new game is much, much, better. Overall, I think it’s a pretty good game with a lot of potential.

There are things Square is doing that work well. There are things they are doing that do not work well. There are things that really don’t make any sense at all. For instance, consider the spam problem. Companies that sell in-game stuff for money (a plague everywhere) infest FF14, and they spam. A lot. In major cities, you may get 2-3 messages a second from them. Why, you ask, is there no chat throttle to prevent a single player from sending that many messages? Well, there is. But the chat throttle has been implemented with extra code to take the time to confirm not only that you are sending a lot of messages, but that they’re identical. So the spammer send out messages with four letters appended at the end, and nothing stops them.

That’s basically characteristic of the sorts of things that go wrong in FF14; the developers have not only gotten stuff wrong, but they’ve often done so in ways that required substantial effort over and above what it would have taken to not get them wrong.

FF14 is true to the heritage of Final Fantasy. The first time I played the game, it was roughly ten minutes from when I first got told I was entering the game world to when I was able to move my character. Final Fantasy games love their cut scenes. And that one is unskippable, because partway through it you get asked a question that determines which of several minor and not very important items of equipment you get. And, this being a Final Fantasy game, that’s the last significant choice you get to make for a very long time.

On the other hand, the resulting storytelling is frankly pretty excellent compared to most MMOs. The writing is mostly good, and some of the writing for side quests is unexpectedly brilliant. The quests tie things together well, and are very well structured; the running around meeting people and doing things for each city to teach you where things are is well done.

The biggest weakness this system produces, by far, is that it is a huge pain to unlock even the most basic functionality of the game. Personal storage other than your own inventory, like a “bank” or whatever? Locked behind story quest, you won’t see it until you’re somewhere around level 15-20. A way to sell things to other players? Locked behind the same story quest. So until then, your inventory just sort of fills up, and you haven’t got any options but selling stuff to vendors for a pittance.

FF14 uses its own names for a lot of things for no obvious reason. Repeatable quests aren’t quests, they’re “leves”, unless they’re for multiple players, in which case they’re “hests”. The “cooldown” (how long before you can re-use a power) is called “recast”. This isn’t a huge problem, but it can be a bit confusing at first.

The game feels slow, and really, it is. The “global cooldown” (the standard interval between using an ability and the next time you can use an ability) is 2.5 seconds. Most games I’ve played that used a GCD-based model had it at 1.5 seconds, or even 1. 2.5 is a long time, and you can’t queue your next ability until quite close to the end. And worse, from a gameplay standpoint, “off-GCD” abilities (those that can be used during that 2.5 second delay) have their own cooldown and can’t be used immediately before or after a regular ability. This is because the game restricts a lot of things based on having animations complete, rather than interrupting them.

As you might expect, that indicates a serious focus on pretty, and here, FF14 delivers. It’s gorgeous, and it plays pretty smoothly. At least on my gaming machines, it performs better than Rift did (admittedly prior to the major performance tweaks in Rift’s 2.4 patch) and looks a great deal better. But that’s not just technical merit; FF14 has excellent art direction and the world is just plain awesome to look at. To compare to other games: FF14 has more detailed and realistic graphics than most of the other games I’ve seen, but has more consistent art direction and style than anything else out there except maybe WoW. It works very well.

Class system: Every character can learn every class. You have to level your first class to level 10 and complete a special quest before you can start taking other classes, but then you can take all of them if you want. Each class has a series of quests (roughly one every five levels) which tell some sort of story and try to teach you things about the class’s play style. You can also use a limited number of abilities from other classes (though each ability may have some restrictions on which classes can use it). At higher levels, there are “jobs”, which are specialized sub-classes you unlock by getting one class to level 30, another to level 15, and then completing a special quest. Jobs have much more restrictive options for cross-class skills, and are intended for party play, where you can focus on a specialized role. Less flexible than a system like Rift’s, but much more flexible than what many MMOs offer.

Gathering and crafting: The gathering and crafting in FF14 are huge and detailed compared to most MMOs. There are 3 gathering classes, and 8 crafting classes. And they are classes, not side-projects; you level them from 1-50, same as any other class, and doing so requires a great deal of time and effort. It’s also comparatively fun, if you are interested in that sort of thing, and quite rewarding; you can make a fair bit of money, and you can save a huge amount of money with crafted gear rather than purchased gear.

Travel: Pretty restricted at first (you have to make it some ways in the story quest before you get access to other cities, and thus to the classes that have their guilds in those cities), but not too awful. You can teleport to known locations from anywhere, you don’t have to reach one of the teleport points to do so. There’s also much slower, and much cheaper, travel through birds. (Player-controlled mounts, like everything else, are locked behind story quests; you have to make it through about 20 levels and several dungeons to get to them.)

Community: There’s no global channels, but there are pretty decent tools for player-moderated channels (with inexplicably low limits of 128 players to a channel). People are mostly pretty friendly. Part of this may be that Square has a pretty good history of being willing to take firm action against hostile behavior in their player base; I met one user who said he got a ten-day ban from their forums for “calling someone an idiot for crying”. I’m inclined to view that as a big positive.

Overall: If you enjoy fantasy MMOs, this is a pretty good one. It has some fairly severe limitations, for now, but they claim to be working on many things. It’s still pretty fun to play.

Assuming Square continues working on this and continues listening to feedback (something they’ve been quite good about so far), it seems likely that this will be an exceptional game. My biggest reservation is their stance that they would rather shut it down than consider a F2P or hybrid model — I don’t think that’s economically sane, in general. But they can probably make it work for quite a few years.

Peter Seebach

Comment [3]


A mismatch of visions


2013-08-08 17:15
Comment [1]

I’ve been, historically, a pretty big fan of Rift. I like the game. I like the developers. And throughout most of the last two and a half years, I have felt that the Rift team have earned a certain amount of trust. They make mistakes, but they fix them. In general.

But throughout that time, the Rift team has tended to disregard problems with the player community. And as long as this was merely not taking action, or taking action too slowly, I could mostly handwave it away, although I’ve posted my share of complaints about it. But this week, it moved past into new territory: Taking action which actively rewards griefers and punishes legitimate players. And that is a thing I am not able to handwave away.

The problems, as I see it, are:

  1. Trion tends to keep actions taken about community problems secret, so players in general cannot know whether there is any enforcement.
  2. The enforcement we do see is visibly ineffectual in most cases.
  3. These states persist despite many players pointing them out, and raising concerns about them.
  4. There is no discussion of this from Trion employees, so we can’t even tell whether they’re happy with things as they are, or don’t know how to fix them, or have ideas but not the resources to fix them. There’s essentially no feedback at all.

So throughout the last couple of years, the one recurring sore spot has been that in general, griefers and harassers get to do whatever they want. Trion might occasionally issue temporary bans. It may even be that they issue permanent bans. But for the most part, if you identify a troll or griefer in the game, you can be confident that they will continue making life unpleasant for other players for as long as they want, with no visible consequences.

If it were just a few trolls, that wouldn’t be such a big deal. The problem is the side-effects. This becomes a broken-windows problem. Users see that the game clearly tolerates a fair amount of trollish and abusive behavior. The users who might or might not be trollish or abusive tend to become more trollish and abusive. The users who don’t like abusive behavior tend to leave. So over time, players who would prefer a more friendly community tend to be driven out, and players who think the point of online interaction is to get a rise out of people tend to congregate.

This results in what appears to be a fairly high turnover rate, because the usual barrier to hopping around from one game to another is community engagement, and Rift is not an environment conducive to such engagement. It could be, quite easily. There’s a lot of really nice folks there. But as long as they are being driven out of the public channels by aggressive trolls, it’s not going to really work that well.

Up until this week, though, at least I could say that the game itself stayed good. Rules and policies were set in ways that were clearly considered and based around what made for a good game experience.

Since Rift launched, Trion’s official stance on playing multiple accounts at once (multiboxing) has been that multiboxing is allowed. There have, of course, always been complaints; any time anyone does anything unusual, there will be complaints. By and large, the complaints are mostly highly emotive, and unfounded. Here’s a sample of complaints (one an exact quote from something a player said):

  • Multiboxers are unstoppable and other players can’t beat them.
  • Multiboxers are weak and guarantee a loss for their team.
  • Multiboxers are using multiboxing to send spam.
  • Multiboxers are used by gold farmers to farm resources.
  • Multiboxers are using the report-AFK feature to kick people out of matches.
  • “The thing is, multiboxing mentality is literally 2 degrees from a rapist’s mentality. The only difference is that the victims are virtual and it’s not illegal. Technically.”

You might notice that two of these complaints directly contradict each other. The others don’t fare much better; fundamentally, these complaints don’t make sense when evaluated as claims about the actual impact of multiboxing on the game. What these complaints show is that people are outraged and not quite sure why, so they make up whatever sounds like it would be bad and say it about multiboxing.

So, Trion did the obvious thing: They suddenly disabled a key game feature, without which multiboxing is no longer practical for users who want to obey the game’s other rules. No warning, and no explanation or rationale, just an announcement that this has been done and maybe players could give feedback. The problem I have with this is that the people complaining have, as a general rule, been offering complaints which were incoherent at best, and frequently simply dishonest. So, Trion has just sent a clear new message about policy: As of now, personal animosity and outright lies are a winning argument. If you want to hurt other players badly enough, we’ll help.

This isn’t to say there might not be good arguments that would lead to that conclusion. I’ve even advanced one, although I personally don’t think it’s strong enough to justify a change. A post explaining the reasons for the decision, and the tradeoff, and acknowledging the harm to legitimate players, might well be acceptable. But without that, the message is that either the arguments already presented are compelling, or the arguments are irrelevant. And since the arguments presented are, by and large, mutually exclusive or incoherent, that’s a bad thing in either case.

It might seem strange that I am simultaneously unhappy that Trion took action on some complaints, and unhappy that they are slow to take action, or just don’t take action, on others. The key distinction is that I think it matters whether things are true. In the case of griefers and harassers, there is solid supporting evidence and argumentation for the claim that ignoring this problem has made the game substantially worse for large numbers of people. In the multiboxing case, the vast majority of arguments presented aren’t even arguments, they’re just expressions of personal contempt.

I’ve known a few of the active multiboxers in Rift. (I personally occasionally dual-box, but I don’t PvP, so these changes have no direct impact at all on anything I do.) I have consistently found them to be friendly and supportive players, who are competent at the game and always happy to help others. And Trion has just said that those users are unwelcome, but the people who were telling lies and name-calling to try to win a point are welcome. Which comes back to my basic complaint: Trion shows no signs of having any preference at all between players who try to make the community better, and players who try to make it worse.

What do I think Trion should do? A few things:

  1. Acknowledge that griefing is a problem, and that the solution to systematic harassment or griefing is not “oh, just ignore them”.
  2. Develop some kind of protocol for dealing with the tiny handful of highly persistent trolls.
  3. Come up with some way to act more quickly on trolls. Yes, it is expensive to deal with things quickly. It may be more expensive to deal with all the secondary effects and fallout from not dealing with them. Certainly, it is more disruptive to the players waiting for something to happen.
  4. Find a way to give users real feedback on what’s being done. There is no obvious need for a policy of never discussing policy-related actions, and there’s a lot of very obvious downsides to it.
  5. If there’s a lot of really hostile and dishonest behavior coming from a group of users, and you come to think that you really should do what those users want, clearly distance that outcome from their behavior.
  6. More generally, talk more about the community, not just the game rules. Acknowledge that the player base is an important part of what makes people play an MMO or leave it, and talk about what you want to see in the community.

I think that last one may be the most important. All I know is that I don’t like the changes I see. I can’t say whether I would like what the Trion devs intend or want for their community, because they never talk about that.

Either way, it’s harder to get confidence back than to build it in the first place.

Peter Seebach

Comment [1]


The most important person you know


2013-07-29 10:06
Comment [2]

You never actually thought you’d meet them, of course. I mean, who would expect to? I mean, really, we all like to think we’re important, but we know that we’re just not that important, that we will never rate the attention of the truly great ones. So at first, it just seemed like they were a little rude. Maybe a little dismissive of other people. Who would have guessed, though, that you’d actually met the one person in the world whose time is the most valuable?

Of course, they never actually tell you that. Their time is too valuable to waste explaining how valuable it is. So they just ignore questions he doesn’t have time to answer. When they ask questions, they’re quick to express their disappointment that other people are under the mistaken impression that they have more important things to do than answer those questions. And if the answers aren’t detailed enough, they don’t waste their ever-so-valuable time researching, or thinking, or even articulating specifically what they’re missing. A simple “?” will suffice; the experienced user will usually know what is wrong.

It’s easy to mistake them for a troll, frankly, because their complete disregard for social niceties, or the notion that other people might have more important tasks, seems outright irrational if you don’t know who they are. It can take a while to realize just how blessed you are by their presence. Sadly, some people may not ever really figure it out. And that’s why I’m making this post. Because you know them, and the next time you meet them, you’ll recognize them.

Peter Seebach

Comment [2]


Statistics, brains, and science

(Personal, Autism)

2013-07-21 14:48
Comment [1]

So, it has come to my attention that I am sometimes a little weird. No, wait. A lot weird. And this isn’t just a matter of being autistic; even comparing my behavior to that of other autistics I know, I am somewhat further out there in some ways. So, as a result of this, I’ve spent a cheerful hour or so filling out the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), this being the “restructured” version of the MMPI-2.

The MMPI is sort of magic. See, instead of trying to figure out what answers mean, they went with a radically different approach: Drop the theoretical basis, go with raw numbers. The test consists of a large series of true/false questions. Lots of people take the test. Many of them have known traits. Correlations are discovered between answers and traits. It does not matter why these correlations exist. Since there are a ton of questions, you can get a pretty good estimate of the likelihood that someone has a given trait without any actual understanding of the mechanism.

Which is, it turns out, useful.

One common complaint about the MMPI is that people may misunderstand the questions. The beauty of the mechanism is that, as long as other people with similar traits tend to misunderstand the questions the same way, it still works. But I found a few questions interesting, and felt like commenting on them, and on my responses to them.

9. I often feel guilty because I pretend to feel more sorry about something than I really do.

Answer: False. I sometimes pretend to feel more sorry about something than I really do, because if I don’t, people feel like I don’t care about them. Maybe I don’t. I don’t know; I am inclined to feel that “preferring that they not feel bad” is a kind of caring, but it’s not the same as the one where you automatically feel sorry about things, apparently. But why would I feel guilty about that? I think the assumption is that some people who do this feel like there is some way in which their not-feeling-sorry is a bad thing. I don’t get it. I am this; I am not something else. I can’t feel good or bad about that. I don’t really have a lot of experience of “guilt” in any recognizable form.

199. Peculiar odors come to me at times.

Answer: False. Actually, it’s obviously true, but I think the intent of the question is to imply that these odors are not adequately explained by things like “my spouse has a cat who has never quite come to terms with the notion of fully digesting food”. In short, I think they are looking for olfactory hallucinations, not people whose cats are perenially mildly unwell.

134. I am not easily angered.
155. I get mad easily then get over it soon.

Answers: True, and True. You might think these contradictory. The distinction I’m making is that “easily angered” implies (to my reading) that I am the passive object of some other actor’s angering behavior. So, say, taking offense at something someone says is “being angered”. But getting mad is different. And it is fairly hard for other people to anger me, but quite easy for me to get mad about things and then get over it.

279. Most men are unfaithful to their wives now and then.

Answer: False. I sort of suspect a lot of the questions that use qualifiers like “most” or “hardly ever” or whatever intend statements about representativeness, but I tend to interpret them as statistical claims. So I have been told that roughly 60% of people have at least one affair. But! “now and then” implies, to me, more than one event. And I am pretty sure that at least a fair number of people have one affair, but not two. So that would put us under the 50% mark. Thus, not “most”.

In general, there’s a certain amount of ambiguity, and I suspect that the MMPI may produce less useful results when taken by autistics, because some questions may be persistently misunderstood in ways that differ from the normal ways you’d expect for whatever other madnesses they may have.

I have filled out the entire form except the “gender” item. I’m aware that I have very little measurable gender identity. I suspect that I am more inclined to identify as female than as male, except that in the lack of any significant dysphoria, it’s a lot simpler to just present as male. But for purposes of norming answers to tests? Suddenly that seems like it might be worth getting “right”, except of course that I have no idea what the right answer is.

Peter Seebach


Comment [1]


Assume a spherical cat of uniform happiness


2013-07-18 11:09
Comment [1]

But you don’t have to assume her anymore. I have her.

I mean, strictly speaking, she’s not spherical. But she’s certainly a little on the pudgy side, and is the most unreasonably happy cat I have ever seen. Things that make her purr:

  • Petting her.
  • Being near her without petting.
  • Feeding her.
  • Not having fed her yet, but having the ability to provide food in the future.
  • Looking at her.
  • Walking past her without looking at her.
  • Pulling her tail.
  • No, really. Pulling her tail. She starts purring.
  • Lifting her back end by her tail until her back feet are completely off the ground, while she is eating.
  • Providing cat treats.
  • Making a string move.
  • Writing blog posts while ignoring her.
  • Moving heavy boxes past her.
  • Pushing her face away from something she should not be chewing on.

The tail thing actually had me a bit worried that maybe she had nerve damage, but I once managed to pinch her tail hardenough that she made a questioning mew of “perhaps that is not quite as pleasant as I previously thought”. So she has nerve function there, she just likes all experiences rather than preferring some to others.

Peter Seebach

Comment [1]


The hate that dare not speak its name

(Personal, Politics)

2013-06-28 12:08
Comment [1]

Used to be, people were pretty shy about being gay, because it could get you in lots of trouble. Crazy, crazy, trouble. Not just being beaten or killed, but stuff like attempts to use mandatory hormone therapy to “treat” it. And this was a horrible situation. Thing is, this didn’t mean gay people didn’t want relationships, it just meant they had to find subtle ways to indicate that they might be interested in such things. (People who read a lot of Pratchett may recognize a similarity to his dwarves, who do not distinguish between male and female in most contexts, considering it a rather personal thing, making their courtships rather more complicated.)

That’s not as true as it used to be. Sure, there’s still people who are not “out”. There’s still people whose parents do horrible things upon finding out that they have a gay kid. But it’s gotten a lot rarer. And the thing is, while “general acceptance” may be a fairly long way out, overt hostility has become something which is unambiguously shameful in the eyes of mainstream Western culture. And that part is sufficiently widespread that it’s not just true among “supporters” or “allies”, but just in general among the population.

Which results in a curious parallel situation. People who want to express contempt for gays can’t just come out and say it or they’ll be shamed and ostracized. So they have to try to sort of subtly hint that they would be receptive to such things, without actually saying them. They have to speak in euphemisms. They want to produce signals that other homphobes will recognize, but other people won’t. And of course, there’s always the risk that someone is just sounding them out to raise the alarm.

So when I ran into a guild which advertised “family values” in an MMO recently, and asked what they felt about LGBT families, the person I talked to had to try really hard to avoid giving any information. The fact that he didn’t feel comfortable giving a concrete answer tells you what the answer is, but preserves him a little bit of plausible deniability. But even though he presumably felt strongly that the policy he was advocating was a good one, it was nonetheless clear that he felt ashamed of it in some way. Which is, from my perspective, a good thing.

There is one key difference. Sexual orientation is, so far as anyone can tell, largely innate. No amount of suppression makes it go away. But bigotry is in general a learned trait. If people are uncomfortable asserting it clearly enough to teach it, a lot less of it will get picked up. The things the bigots say are things also said by people who really mean them. That makes it great camouflage, but it also means that they are not able to effectively promote their views.

And, as the nice folks say, it gets better. See, it’s not just that very few people are promoting anti-gay bigotry now, as compared to twenty or thirty years ago. It’s that the ones who are left are the ones who used to be the lunatic fringe. So when they talk, they really do come across as jerks. They are hostile, they are mean, and they are usually fundamentally ignorant of things that basically everyone else knows. And that means that even people who might otherwise agree with them don’t want to be seen to be associated with them.

The people who worked on the anti-gay constitutional amendment proposed in Minnesota a couple of years back (which got smacked down at the ballots last November) did a really amazing job of being visibly mean. I think that, if they’d simply shut up and not said anything, they might well have won; Minnesota as a whole has a lot of fairly religiously conservative folks who are not ready for change. But they didn’t shut up. They talked, and talked. And the venom and vitriol escalated as it looked less and less likely that they’d win. And it came to pass that they lost, badly, and that in less than a year past that, the legislature and governor totally removed gender qualifications from Minnesota’s marriage laws, because now Minnesotans are clearly aware that being opposed to this makes you a jerk. And we don’t like being jerks, ok?

There’s an in-game Pride parade in Rift tomorrow. We’ll get hecklers, and I am super happy about that, because every time they write their mean little chat messages, they will be reminding everyone else on the server that this is what anti-gay people are like; they are assholes. They are the folks who have to rain on someone else’s parade. They are not fun, they are not cool. They are not even “edgy”. They are just annoying. And they are a source of shame to the people who used to agree with them, but are being gradually driven away by the realization of just what it is that they’ve been allied with.

Peter Seebach


Comment [1]


Come on, Gabe, you're better than that.

(GeekStuff, Personal)

2013-06-20 11:38

Penny Arcade’s Gabe is doing the “poke the trans people” thing again (too lazy to link, its on the twitters). Gabe, dude. Claiming that anyone with a vagina is necessarily a woman is sort of a dick move (sorry, couldn’t pass on that straight line). It’s not cool or edgy. It’s also not usefully true. And the thing is, I totally get the idea that it would be nice if the world were nice and simple and everything fit into easy categories. But the world isn’t all that simple, not everything fits into easy categories, and dismissing people as not existing is an oversimplification with a significant body count.

Thing is, there’s a motive in here which isn’t all bad. There’s this ideal that gamers should get along and respect each other just because they’re gamers, and that subdividing the community will undermine this. So people identifying as “trans gamers” are undermining this ideal. And you know, that’s not an awful ideal. I’ll totally concede: It would be great if this were not a distinction anyone bothered to make.

The thing is, though, Gabe’s attacking the wrong people. He’s attacking the people who are pointing out that there’s trans gamers, and that they are a part of the community, and that they might have slightly different requirements from their games than other people. For instance, one of the reasons a lot of people I know don’t play WoW is that Blizzard won’t let you change your name without some kind of legal paperwork, which is no big deal for a lot of people, but a huge deal if your name is in fact likely to change. That’s an issue which nearly all trans gamers run into at some point, and which most other gamers don’t. And those distinctions exist, and they affect things. Same way that gamers who are married and raising kids might have different feelings about raid scheduling than gamers who don’t have either of those time commitments happening. It’s not inherently a huge deal.

But it’s a huge deal for LGBT gamers, because there are so many people who react with outright hostility and ostracization whenever they find out another gamer is gay, or trans, or whatever. And that’s a big problem. Maybe Gabe’s never had people kick him out of a guild he’d been in for three years because he mentioned a boyfriend. Some people have. You will occasionally see commentary on how shitty the video game industry is to women. And it is, indeed, spectacularly shitty to women. But you won’t see much if anything on the question of how the video game industry treats LGBT people, because for the most part it doesn’t. Xbox Live’s general use of “fag” as the gold standard insult is the state of the art. And the reason that still happens, and still gets tolerated, is that people habitually assume that all gamers are straight males.

So the solution is: Get people used to this. Get people past that first “hey this is really weird” thing and to the “oh, them again” phase. And that’s why you see all these people going out of their way to say “yeah, I’m a trans gamer” or “I’m a gay gamer”. Because they are doing the same thing in gaming that they do everywhere else; be visible enough for long enough that people get over their initial freak-outs.

So fussing at the people for coming out and saying “yeah, we exist, we play games, deal” is missing the point badly. If you really wanna get away from the subdivisions and special cases, you can actually help bring that about. You can stop poking fun at the freaks and start remembering that ideal of thinking that gamers are just gamers, and maybe promote that awareness a bit. What with having a huge and influential following. And that could, you know, actually help bring about a state where no one cares so much, and people stop making a big deal of it.

You could probably, if you hadn’t just made it clear that you were a hostile and uninterested audience, even get some of the hundreds of people who read your comic and know something about the issue to explain stuff to you since you’re apparently unable to do the research on your own. It’s okay! We can use little words.

Peter Seebach




Spare ideas

(GeekStuff, Personal)

2013-06-08 14:17
Comment [1]

Was reading the Pathfinder (a tabletop RPG) book on game mastery, browsing their world-building stuff, came up with spare ideas.

I tend to have lots more ideas than time to do anything with, so, here’s a batch of spare ideas in case anyone needs them.

  • They pointed out that nomadic people tend to be lower-tech than non-nomadic people. What if it were the other way around? So there are wandering nomads who come to cities, where the people of the cities trade them high quality simple goods for fancy things like clocks that are too hard for the city people to make. (Why? I dunno. Magic maybe. Maybe mana is a limited resource which regenerates slowly, and running things like clocks uses it up, and you need more than that to make them, so you can’t do this in cities. Maybe it’s secret technology that the nomads jealously guard. I have no idea.)
  • They pointed out that the usual structure of feudal societies had nobility tending to be knights and such, with serfs being non-combatants. What if you had one feudal society in which swords were nobility, and mages were serfs, and one the other way around, and they were neighbors?
  • Moon-based magic. This presumes something similar to the D&D “spells are used up and then you get more”. So magic is based on the moon; you don’t get new spells for the day when you sleep, you get new spells for the day when the moon rises. But wait! There’s three moons. Different casters are aligned with different moons. Key war strategy: Attack at a time when your heavy-hitters will be able to unload most of their magic right before moonrise.
  • A technological revolution could make a really interesting fantasy RPG, although it’d be pretty far from the usual range of D&D.
Peter Seebach


Comment [1]


Getting hit on in MMOs

(Personal, GeekStuff)

2013-06-03 13:20
Comment [1]

So, last night, there was hilarity. There was this guy, in Rift, who was… well. First off, I believe he was about 14. So he was being generically homophobic, as a lot of young teens are, and people were teasing him about it. And he responded, as 14-year-old boys often do, by trying to be abusive and sexually harass people with female names. Whereupon he asked Katrinka (aka me) to “show me your milkshake”.

What followed was probably the most hilarious three hours of my MMO gaming career. I persistently refused on the grounds that I am not interested in felony charges. He explained that this meant that Katrinka was:

  1. A lesbian.
  2. Actually a guy.

Ooookay. So he continues to assert these simultaneously, and then it starts getting weird. For one thing, while I admit I don’t spend enough time hitting on lesbians to really have a strong feel for the strategy, my initial impression is that an obsessive focus on how disgusting you think gays are isn’t gonna be a winning strategy.

But it has not yet gotten weird. At one point, I observed that I had been married longer than he’d been alive. His response, “pregnant bitches need lovin too”, manages to somehow encapsulate the essence of the conversation; it’s pretty much incompatible with both of his other claims.

Furthermore, he put a great deal of effort into establishing that he was not actually a teenager. He never asserted a specific age, but he did tell the story of the time he and some friends did “oxycotteen” and had sex in a hot tub. Later, he referrered back to it, asking us how many 12-year-olds said they’d done that. (Note: I don’t think anyone else had mentioned 12; I was sticking with 14.)

The whole thing was just sort of surreal. At one point, when I’d been off actually slaying dragons and stuff and not bothering to chat, he said “where did katrina go?”, a question to which at least two people responded with variants of “New Orleans”. He didn’t get it. (This sort of suggestts to me that 14 is on the old end of likely guesses; I would expect a 16-year old to remember a massive natural disaster from 8 years ago.)

And really, “he didn’t get it” was the night’s theme. In response to his misspelling of oxycontin, I told a story about people who had tried to steal painkillers from a veterinarian’s office, and ended up with a large amount of oxytocin. I think I got that from This is True, where the tag the writer gave it was “… suspects are middle-aged males with sensitive, enlarged, nipples.” He didn’t get it, and pursued for some time the question of how the hell you’d use that in a line-up or something.

We made comments about his obsession with “queer assholes”. He didn’t get it. Puns were made; he didn’t get any of them. When he did something particularly offensive and entitled, it was observed that if the Massengil people found him, it’d cover their production needs for three years. He didn’t get it. And throughout it all, he persisted in trying to hit on Katrinka, while observing that she was a lesbian and also really a guy.

And it really did turn out to be sort of creepy, even so. Particularly creepy was the part where he started talking a whole lot about milkshakes, and then announced he had to go for “a smoke”, then stopped posting for a while, and when he came back he was suddenly less sex-obsessed for a while.

Couple of take-home lessons:

  1. This stuff really does still happen. Guys still hit on people they think might be girls, and call them “lesbians” if turned down.
  2. It’s really creepy.
  3. It’s also, at least in MMOs, now pretty much a target for open mockery because the vast majority of the player base knows better.
Peter Seebach


Comment [1]


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