Just coming off Gen Con, which gave me an opportunity to talk shop and history with many of the titans of tabletop, I want to offer some insight on what it’s like to be a manager, owner, or major executive employee at a tabletop game company.
I’ve worked on staff at Wizards of the Coast, Green Ronin, and Paizo. I’ve freelanced for a dozen other companies, and know many of their owners and executives very well. I’ve helped start, run, and shut down game companies. I’ve been doing this in different roles for more than 20 years.
This insight isn’t about one company. Nor is it about my own time constraints (in general my role is game creation and NOT these kinds of tasks)
This is about the tabletop RPG industry as a whole, as it has been for decades, in many different capacities, for many different companies.
First–you never have free time, or enough time. There is always an event coming up. Sometimes people have to walk away from one almost-week-long event that took 2 months to plan for to get on a plane to fly overseas for another such even. Sometimes people work 5-6 weekends in a row at events, conventions, sales meetings, open houses, and so on. Sometimes you have to work 30 8-10 hour days in a row.
And the people who do that work also have things that have to be done every weekday, every week, every month. It’s 40 hours of work if you are lucky, AND weekends of work (especially during March-August, the half the year we refer to as con “Season”), AND THEN emergencies that are time-sensitive and cannot wait.
And it’s a rough industry. Most of the game companies I bought things from 20 years ago don’t exist anymore. A lot of the ones I bought from 10 years ago don’t exist anymore. Even those that are still around sometimes suffer layoffs, or long periods where things are so risky that a single bad decision about which license to sign, which partner to anger, which friend-of-a-friend you annoy, which print run to cut back, which book to publish, can sink a company.
It’s high-stakes, high-stress, high-time-consumption, all the time.
I absolutely am not telling anyone they are not allowed to ever feel like a company isn’t giving them enough attention. But when there are serious problems, it’s wrong to think the company owners or senior staff are showing disrespect or proving they “don’t care about customers” because they “won’t just take 10 minutes and discuss some information.”
The people who make the decisions who keep the doors open at a tabletop game company can’t do anything regarding major problems off-the-cuff.
It’s never “just 10 minutes.”
And, again, I’m not currently dealing with any of these huge issues in my role at any company right now.
But I have in the past.
I know when I have had issues with licenses with other companies, when I was in other positions, I have had to not just decide “What do I want to say,” but:
“Do I need to warn my partners, who are also partners of a company i am having issues with, before I make a statement about that company’s issues??”
“Do I need to run this by my company’s owner?”
“Do I need to run it through our legal council?”
“Do we need to have a meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page about what has happened, and what our plans are?”
“Do I need to have editors go over my statement so it is clear and concise?”
“Would I rather take the 2-3 hours of collective time it is going to take to do this, or to sleep at least 6 hours tonight?”
And when the people who run these companies are too harried to make the right business decisions? People lose their jobs.
It’s not just a game, or a badly produced entertainment product for the people who depend on these jobs for health insurance, retirement income, and rent.
The thing you claim will be easy to give you?
Done right, it’s never just 10 minutes.
Done wrong, it can tank someone’s job.
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Tonight, in about 25 minutes, is my “Farewell Diner” for Paizo.
I’ll be here for 2 more weeks, but this is my last chance to have all the remaining Starfinder team be present for what I see as a celebration of my time at Paizo, and Starfinder (and the people who worked on it) have been a crucial, defining part of that time.
I’m sure I’ll have more to say later, but right now, as I face the first official memorial of 10% of my life, I wanted to express this.
Paizo has some of the greatest, most creative developers, writers, storytellers, and designers in the RPG industry. The art staff, customer service, warehouse staff, and project management all do amazing work trying to keep the actual company able to support those creative goals.
It is not easy. It is not painless. They work spectacularly hard, and emotions and investment in these products runs very high.
I Boomeranged back to Seattle, back into an RPG staff job, because I thought it would make me a better creator.
It has, by leaps and bounds that exceeded my wildest hopes.
But the people I work with, many who have gone on before me and many who are staying here after I am gone, have also made me a better person.
I’m going to have lots of conflicted feelings the first time I see the Paizo credits without my name listed among them.
But one of the strongest will be gratitude for what this time has meant for me.
Long after I am no longer an employee, I’ll remain a fan.
Well I don’t like TOO much preamble before getting to the point of the announcement, so here’s the tl;dr version.
My wife Lj has gotten a job in Indiana, working as an Executive Assistant for Lone Wolf’s vice-president. As a result, she and I are moving from WA to IN.
In fact, Lj is flying out to our new apartment (if you need our new address and don’t have it, drop me a line) on Saturday. June 15th. In 3 days.
I’ll be around for about a month in Redmond, and then go out to join her.
Inevitably some folks will have questions, so predicting them as best I can, and in no particular order:
Starfinder isn’t going anywhere. Paizo has lots of amazing, hard-working, and talented people on that game line, and they have known I was leaving for a bit now. We don’t know exactly how everything will get sorted out, but the game line and its products will continue.
I remain a huge fan of Paizo, Pathfinder (both editions), Starfinder, the Adventure Card Game, and even things I can’t talk about yet. I was a freelancer for Paizo for years before I was a full employee, and I expect to be freelancing for them again in the future.
While Lj getting a job is the reason for this change, yes, I have plans that involve other companies. But I’m not announcing any of them just yet. Rest assured, I am not leaving gaming behind.
Yes, this is why Rogue Genius Games is taking a short break. But in the long run, it’s not going anywhere. I have plans and plans, yet, for my tiny little gaming company, and its partners and allies.
Yes, that’s why I will be at Gen Con this year. I had decided not to do any out-of-state conventions in 2019. But that won’t be out-of-state by August.
If you have more questions, let them fly!
CW: Trauma, Violence
In conjunction with my therapist, I am writing about some of the traumas I have suffered. This is an exercise for me, which I make public as part of the process, rather than in an effort to garner responses of any kind.
I’ll go back to fake words and weird game ideas later. You can safely skip this one.
I don’t remember many details of the worst beating I ever took.
Since it was also one of the most public, I someone feel like I should remember it well, but I don’t.
I was at a friends’ apartment, in the short gap after I was driving and staying out all night (at least on weekends and in summers) out of High School, before I got married. I’d guess 1987 or 1988, making it more than 30 years ago.
One of the friends who stayed at that apartment and I heard a woman yelling for help. We looked out a window and out the front door, but couldn’t see anything.
In case she needed immediate assistance, we ran toward the sound, along the 2nd-floor exposed walkway that linked the apartments, and down a set of stairs to a parking lot.
When we got to the edge of the parking lot, we saw a woman was in a car, on the driver’s side. Her window was cracked open by a very small amount, and she was yelling for help out the window. A very large man was holding on to the side-view mirror, screaming at her, and pounding on the glass.
I can not tell you anything about the woman, or the car. I have no memory at all of their appearance, or even impressions they gave me. They existed, and that’s all I know.
The man was large, muscular, and angry. I can’t tell you what he wore, what his ethnicity was,m what he hair looked like–nothing.
The woman was clearly safe, at that moment, but also clearly could not drive away without dragging the man along with her, which she seemed unwilling to do.
My friend and I decided that he, being faster,m would run back to the apartment and dial 911. I would remain here, in case the situation devolved and direct intervention became necessary. We did not wish to escalate things unless it was the only way to prevent bodily harm–a theme in many of my traumatic events which I have begun to question.
My friend ran off. The man kept screaming. The woman kept yelling for help. I observed.
At some point, something changed. I have no idea if I looked away and missed the change, or if I had the information beaten out of me, or I have just forgotten because it has been so long.
The next memory of the event I have is that the woman was driving away, dragging the man with her for a bit until he was knocked lose of the car. She drove off.
The man got up, yelled at the car, then looked around.
He saw me, and screamed “You think that’s funny?”
To be clear, I did not. i was not laughing, or even grinning. I was trying to decide if I should go check on him for injuries.
He shouted, and charged at me,
I was standing at the edge of the parking lot, next to a concrete sidewalk and a sandbox. I have a bright, clear memory of thinking that when he tackled me, it would be better to be knocked down into sand, rather than onto concrete, and taking on big step sideways so that was the angle he’d hit me at.
I do not remember speaking to him at all. I do not remember the impact.
I do remember the taste of sand and blood in my mouth, and being aware I was successfully using my arms to protect my head from his kicks.
He kicked me for what seemed like a truly prolonged period of time, but I have no objective idea how long it was. I remember being surprised that, given his size, he wasn’t doing more damage to me. I remember wondering if it was because he was drink. I don’t remember in any moment before that concluding he was drunk.
At some point in the time he was kicking me, I began to wonder if I was going to have to fight back. I had made no effort to strike him yet. I was curled up, protecting my head with my arms and my sizable gut with my legs, and he was kicking me. I feel like he must have been yelling, but that’s an impression on my part, not a clear memory.
I know I considered my options, as I was being beaten. His right leg was right on front of my feet. I saw I could easily lash out and slam into the front of his knee with both feet.
I was really afraid I would break his leg if I did that. Maybe cripple him. It felt like a disproportionate response to having him kick me for however long he had been.
It felt unreasonable.
I don’t remember if he ran off when I heard sirens, or a little before I heard sirens.
The recovery from being on the ground is also lost in my memory. One moment I was seeing him run off, the next I was sitting… I have no idea on what, talking to a policewoman.
I declined to go to the hospital. This worried her, because blood was pouring out of my mouth. I discovered my right cheek was bleeding profusely into my mouth, where a kick had torn it against my own teeth. I explained this to the policewoman.
There were a lot of people milling about. My friend had returned, at least one other friend from the apartment had shown up, and there were bystanders.
And the manager of the apartment complex, who was pressuring me to file a report at the police station. Apparently the man was someone she had trouble with.
I asked the policewoman if I should do that. She asked me if I knew the man, or would recognize him, or could describe him. I told her all I could say was he was taller than me, and powerfully built,. She affirmed I could go file a report if I wanted to, but she didn’t see how that description could lead to anything.
I did not go file a report. I was told later the manager was very upset with me for that.
Eventually I ended up at home. My parents care was there, so I must have driven myself, but I have no memory of that.
My arms and legs hurt for weeks, and I had some really spectacular bruises. I was on my parent’s health insurance, and I didn’t want them deciding I could not visit that apartment complex anymore, so I didn’t have a doctor check me out.
In the weeks that followed, several of my friends asked if I had talked to the woman in the car. A few suggested I should ask her out on a date. That seemed… vile to me. In any case, I quite honestly told them, I had no idea who she was, and given she has driven off without me doing anything to help, I doubt she had any idea who I was, or that she would care if she knew.
And that’s all I recall of this event.
This addresses and describes trauma I have suffered, and if you don’t have interest in knowing about that, or if it’s not in your mental health best interests to read about cruelty, assault, or being immobilized, don’t read this.
It’s okay. I’ll get back to imaginary creatures and game spells later. At my therapist’s recommendation, and with their support, I am both making a list of the potentially traumatic events in my life, and trying to nail down details about them I have forgotten.
It is exhausting, frightening, shocking work.
having been diagnosed with civilian PTSD, I also think it is important work for my own well-being.
This is a frank discussion and description of some of that trauma. If you’d rather not be exposed to that, it’s perfectly all right to skip this. I’ll go back to pastiche supervillains ideas and my take on politics and gaming later.
This content is mostly about alcoholism.
My father was an alcoholic. He and my mother tried to control his alcoholism with rationality and intelligence, because they were rational, intelligent people.
It did not work.
My father was never violent. In fact, I have never witnessed any violence against any member of my family except myself, and I have never witnessed any member of my family be violent except myself.
I have assumed, for my entire life, that since my father was never violent, there was no trauma to me associated with his alcoholism.
When drunk, my father made promises that not only would he not keep, he would not remember.
All the alcohol in the house I grew up in was kept in a cabinet that, after he had consumed the two drinks a night my parents thought was reasonable, my mother would lock.
Then, when he felt he needed more alcohol, my father either had to try to force the doors of that cabinet open just enough to pry a bottle loose with a bent coathanger, or go out.
He never drove to get alcohol, and never drove after having even one drink.
He did, however, call a taxi… of just take a walk. We lived 3 houses down from a bar and restaurant (The Mont, in Norman, OK), and late a convenience store was even closer,
As early as 5 or 6, if I woke up late at night and my father was going out, he might take me to the Mont as 10 or 11pm, after everyone else was asleep. I could sit in the restaurant section, and he’d sit right next to me, on the other side of the railing that demarcated the bar.
I learned to play chess with him, and later the game go, at that bar.
As I grew older, he was more likely to walk to the store, buy a bottle, and come back and we’d play games at home. My earliest game experiences–chess, go, checkers, pitch, and a civil war wargame/boardgame I don’t know the name of, were with my father, but only when he was drunk. We almost never got to finish those games, because he’d become too drunk to keep playing. Usually he’d fall asleep, or begin to cry about international politics he’d slurringly try to explain to me.
This was all I knew. To me, this was normal.
I did that less once I had friends, and could play games with them. No because I was avoiding my father, but because the window during which he could play got shorter and shorter, as he drank more, faster.
After my sister went to college, it began to be normal to come into the living room in the morning to discover my father had passed out after unlocking the door to come into the house, and we had, for an unknown period of time, been asleep with our front door held open by his body being slumped across our doorway.
My mother told my father to stop getting drunk at home, so he would take a taxi to a motel, and get drunk there, often paying people to spend time with him because he disliked drinking alone.
In my mid-to-late teens, I met some of the people he paid to spend time with him. They suggested I could pay them to spend time with me. They also suggested I could get the money to do so from my father and he wouldn’t even notice.
I am sure I could have.
My father was a sweet man who loved me, and was doing the best he could.
He and my mother were going to take my wife and I out to dinner on our first wedding anniversary–but he got too drunk and couldn’t do it. My mother had to call me, and confess he had moved out a few weeks before, and they hadn’t told me because they didn’t want to ruin my anniversary dinner.
My mother took us out without him.
About a year before he died, in an effort to get him to go back into rehab, I told him he was drinking himself to death.
He told me he knew, and that was what he wanted. He wanted to drink himself to death.
This addresses and describes trauma I have suffered, and if you don’t have interest in knowing about that, or if it’s not in your mental health best interests to read about cruelty, assault, or being immobilized, don’t read this.
It’s okay. I’ll get back to imaginary creatures and game spells later.
While I have been to therapy for years, I had never before had a therapist ask me to catalog all the major traumas in my life.
There are things I mention when asked probing question I have never thought of as major trauma… but I see why my therapist is dubious.
I know that, at a major national camping event, when I was in my early-to-mid teens, a young woman asked me to follow her from the campground into the woods, whereupon she brought me to a group of mostly older kids who jumped me, hit me, and forced me into a large hole they had dug in the dirt. At least one of them jumped down on me and kept me pinned there.
I remember being confused as to why she wanted me to come with her. I knew who she was (the only woman I recall in a camp full of boys and men), but I did not know her at all. I had a sense that I was headed into a situation where I did not understand the socially acceptable behavior or appropriate expectations.
Anytime I feel that now, I get very upset. I can have a panic attack walking into a new restaurant if I don’t know if I am supposed to sit, wait for a server, or walk up to the counter. That’s not my most common response, but it has happened.
I very clearly remember being very upset that no matter how hard I tried, I could not get up, or get my face out of the dirt.
I remember everyone was laughing, in what sounded like true amusement.
I don’t remember how I got out of the hole. I don’t remember what anyone said, afterwards. I do remember being entirely sure I could not tell the people running the camp. That doing so would make things worse.
I don’t remember why, though the young woman was the daughter of one of those people, which may have impacted my thinking. I remember I liked her. I don’t remember her name. Or even her face, at this point.
I don’t remember any of their faces.
I know that for months after that I thought about it, but noted to myself that I hadn’t been *injured*. No broken bones. No blood.
“Not a big deal.”
I never told my family.
Eventually, I dropped out of that camping group, though not for at least a year after this.
“Not a big deal.”
Maybe I was wrong, about that.
Thankfully, my therapist knows this is impacting me. I have coping mechanisms. I have support. And if this IS something I needed to accept had a lasting impact on me, at least I can work on it now.
But it’s weird to have to face this thing again, which I so successfully buried, so long ago.
It’s upsetting, and I don’t like them still having the power to upset me.
Which, or course, is part of the point of delving into it.
My father was an alcoholic. He went to rehab, once, in the 1990s and toward the end of that process we had ‘family week,’ where the whole family came in for group therapy and counseling. So the other members of my family and I went, and spent a week there. It was a bit like summer camp, but the activities were figuring out how badly screwed up you were and crying instead of archery and canoeing.
While there for family week, I met a young woman who had been badly abused. I did not get, and if I am honest did not at the time want, any details of what she had been through. She was there for her own addiction. I either never knew what she was addicted to, or I have long since forgotten. She wasn’t in any of the group or therapy sessions I was in with my father and family.
She saw some of my RPG books I had brought with me, and was fascinated by them. She understood the concept immediately but, faced with multiple books of hundreds of pages each for just a few games (I know I had Rolemaster with me, I may have also had some D&D and Champions), she claimed that she “wasn’t smart enough” to play RPGs.
I assured her she was. I promised I could show her how the concept worked and we could play a game, with just a few of sentences of explanation, and three sentences of rules. She agreed.
“Tell me about your character.”
She loved rabbits. She wanted to know if she could be a rabbit, I told her she could be anything she wanted. She decided she was an anthropomorphic rabbit scavenger in a post-apocalyptic world who hunted (and killed) carnivores, and defended herbivores.
I gave her a 3×5 index card.
“Write down one thing you are good at.”
She wrote down she was good at creeping.
“Write down one thing you’re bad at.”
She wrote she was bad at keeping calm.
“Write down one important thing you have.”
I had meant one object she possessed. She wrote she had ‘limitless determination.’ This game was for her. I was not about to tell her she’d done it wrong. Limitless determination it was.
“Write down one thing you want to accomplish.”
She wanted to find a safe place to bring orphan bunnies.
I gave her a penny.
“I’ll describe situations, and you tell me what you want your character to do. For anything you try you flip a coin – your action succeeds on heads and fails on tails. If you try something you are good at or have an important thing for you get to flip twice and succeed if either is heads, while if it’s the thing you are bad at you have to flip twice and get heads for both to succeed. That’s it.”
She asked if, since she was a rabbit, she could succeed on tails, and fail on heads. That seemed super-obvious, and I agreed.
And so the “Hares & Holocausts” game was born. Getting to flip twice and winning if either was tails was a bonus. Having to flip twice and winning only if both were tails was a trial.
We played 3-4 times over that week, mostly at lunch and once one morning after breakfast. I borrowed heavily from Gamma World, Rock & Rule, Watership Down, and Seven Samurai. Her character never got a name, and she didn’t seem to care. I thought of her as “The Rabbit Without a Name,” who wore a poncho, and assumed the setting used an Ennio Morricone soundtrack.
Each scene was clearly defined as casual or dangerous. Casual scenes had no consequences. In a dangerous scene, there were normally 3 chances for her to take an action. Actions weren’t blow-by blow things like “I stab a scorpion bandit,” but more like “I attack the bandits, trying to drive them back out of the mine shaft.” One successful action out of the three was a draw–she ended up neither better off nor worse at the end of the scene. Two successes was a win. Three was a BIG win, and she got some kind of permanent improvement.
Zero successes was a failure.
If she failed at a scene, she took a wound which meant she had to either give up one of her bonuses until she healed, or write down a new trial (which she got to pick) as a scar she kept until she succeeded at a task using that trial. I remember she choose a scar at least once, getting a cut through her left eye so she got the trial “Bad at seeing things to my left.”
She picked up a katana, with a BIG win, which she got as a bonus she could use once per combat, because I wanted to introduce the idea of equipment. She also gained a psychic mind-stare with a BIG win, which let her try to take out a foe before a scene began, with no penalty if she failed.
She crossed The Waste, and found a mine shaft, which had evil scorpion bandits in it. Driving them away, the mine shaft lead her to a valley with a ruined town which had some bunny orphans in it. She saved them from a spider sweat-shop owner (who forced the bunny orphans to weave designer webs for uptown spiders), then went to find them a safe home. That took her to an old observatory on top of a nearby mountain, where she had to convince the ancient security AI (that controlled a robotic sphinx guard) to allow the orphan bunnies to live there. She hunted down and imprisoned a skunk airship pirate who made clouds the observatory couldn’t see through, and promised shed talk the orphan bunnies into become astronomers, and the AI agreed to let them stay and protect them.
Then she took the stench-airship, and flew off. She wanted to find, and defeat, the Uptown Spiders who received the designer webs. End of campaign.
I did not realize for weeks that she never killed anyone. Drove off, defeated, jailed, convinced to change sides, yes. Never death.
She really seemed into it, and told me she would introduce that game to friends of hers. She still didn’t think she could play a “real” RPG. I tried to convince her there were lots of games, like there were lots of books and lots of movies, and all she needed was one that was a good fit for her. I was not convinced “Hares & Holocausts” could be played seriously, thought I didn’t tell her that.
I’m skipping over a lot of the weird, awkward, difficult parts of this experience. I was making it up as I went along, and it was not as polished as this short write-up makes it sound, especially for the first game or two. There were moments I was uncomfortable. There was at least one time she burst into tears. I used some Rolemaster critical hit tables for narrative inspiration once, and that was a big mistake on numerous levels. The councilors insisted all games take place in one of the public areas, and only between 7am and 6pm. No one else played with us.
At the end of my week, I gave her my contact info. She was going to be there for at least a few weeks longer. I did not ask for, and she did not offer, her contact information. I never heard from her.
I think that’s the only complete, totally original RPG I have ever designed by myself.
My father stayed sober for 90 days, because one of the councilors at rehab told him he couldn’t — that it would be impossible. Through sheer iron will, my father took not a single sip of alcohol for three months. They were a good time to know him. Then, convinced this meant he wasn’t an alcoholic, he drank himself to death over the next few years.
I have a Patreon. It allows me to take the time to make posts that are freely available, like this one. Your support is welcome and appreciated.
This post is heavy, not gaming-related (at least mostly), personal, and from my perspective. I’m not claiming this is a scientific or universal explanation. Just my experience.
When you experience trauma, everyone seems to understand why it affects you immediately. You witnessed blood spraying from your mother’s face as a child. You got beating bloody by a random drunk you had never met before. You saw a naked woman clinging to the railing of a motel, screaming for help while a man tried to drag her inside. You were lured into the woods by someone you thought was a friend, so a group could jump you, force you into a ditch, and threaten to bury you alive. You were in a car wreck. An earthquake. A wild fire.
In the hours and days after that, everyone gets it. It was traumatic. You were rattled. It sucked.
Years later, if something sets off those memories so you begin shaking, crying, screaming, some people don’t understand why you haven’t “gotten over it.” Why is it throttling back your productivity, or driving you to seek self-medication, or suddenly making you have nightmares. After all you were fine yesterday, right?
Well first, most likely not. But, second, life is a building, and it’s always growing. Every year is a new floor, every event and responsibility a new tenant you have to keep happy.
The foundation is SUPPOSED to be strong and reinforced enough to handle every floor you build. But some of us built our foundations under poor circumstances. The concrete was smashed, or the ground was swampy. When we put the first few floors on it, we are okay, but every floor is new weight. More and more strain on that foundation.
And not every floor gets built strong, or even correctly. Trauma is a fire on the 5th floor. A wrecking ball coming in through a corner office. Flooding in the basement.
So, we do what we can to shore it up. Self medication is trying to fix the problems of all that structural damage… but it’s not always good as a long-term fix. You’re not doing the work to code, because your problems are ones that sticking to code won’t fix. The tenants are complaining about the heat, because you never got the HVAC fixed after basement flooded. So you set about renovations in their apartments and offices. More windows, more doors, spruce the place up. Sure, you are cutting holes in retaining walls on the 27th floor to do it, but the building is only 28 floors tall, so who cares?
But then you build the 29th floor. The 30th. Ten more on top of that. The external braces you bolted on to make up for the weak walls can’t handle that strain. The cracks in the foundation split their patches under years of use and tons of weight.
You seem fine… but there are problems.
Then one day, winds are just a tiny bit stronger than usual. The buildings around you are fine. They can take it. But you? Your trauma-ridden structure, patches and braces and ad-hoc fixes can’t take it. Your whole frame bends. Windows pop out. Girders on the 5th floor buckle.
People look at you wand wonder what the big deal is. The fire that weakened those girders was 40 years ago. Why are you making a big deal about them now?
We can’t tear ourselves down and start over. And while major renovations sometimes can help bring us up to code, it can be extremely difficult to use a building while it’s being renovated. Do I kick out functions like going to work, paying the bills, helping people out, so I can get the work of replacing major columns done? Especially since the workmen can’t promise the columns will ever hold the same weight, and don’t know what they’ll find in the walls when we start tearing into things?
Or do I throw up some more supports, just give up on ever using the 5th floor for anything, promise we’ll add high-speed wifi to the whole building, and hope I don’t drill through a sewage pipe as I install the fiberoptic?
Trauma doesn’t go away. It leaves scars, and you often don’t know where they are, what they look like, or what will set them off.
I spent way too long trying to decide if I even wanted to link to my Patreon in this post. It seemed cheap, somehow, to talk about my pain and then ask for money.
But I know some very brave, smart, struggling people who do it, and I never look down at them for doing so. So maybe we normalize that emotional work is work, and it’s okay to suggest people be paid for it.
If you want to contribute to my writing and videos, check out my Patreon.
EDIT: A post-script.
Since people have asked, yes, all the traumas I list in the second paragraph are specific examples from my life. I left out the sexual abuse as a child, mockery for fat shaming, bullying as a nerd, and probably dozens of others that felt less relatable to the general public.
That’s not the point of this piece but yeah, for those of whom it seems to matter, those ARE all examples of trauma in one person’s life. Mine.
I do not accept the logic that says I must keep my political, personal, and professional online presences separate.
This is not to say I think the people who do make those distinction, at whatever level of firewalling they choose, are making a bad or wrong choice. Indeed, I suspect for quality of life, it’s often a smarter decision. I have enough stress trying to navigate the often zealous opinions the online community has on game design and the business of games before I add my political and personal opinions to the mix. And that’s allowing for the pretty high level of insulation I enjoy from people’s ability to actually harm me online. I’m not bulletproof by any means, but I am in a more stable and secure place in my career than many people.
I’ve seen the replies some of my colleagues get from posting political and personal thoughts online. I don’t blame any of them if they conclude the risk, or the emotional toll, is too great.
And there are consequences to deciding to talk about politics, and mental health, and ethics in public using the same channels and methods I use to discuss game design and funny geeky memes. People who are fans of my game industry work often engage with me in a very different way than they engage with people who are primarily being political advocates or primarily doing slice of life posts. That difference can be a good thing, but it can also result in a feeling of betrayal or anger if someone finds my game-related thoughts strike them differently than my other thoughts, or if they dislike all my work and see it overlapping arenas where they feel I should not be heard.
Angry and hateful messages directed at my privately are the most common response I see. Sometimes someone speaks ill of me in public forums (often that I’m not in, though I attribute that more to how big the internet is, rather than any effort to avoid me when discussing me), which may begin a multiple-party conversation about me. Less often (but with increasing regularity recently), someone sends complaints about me to an employer or associate of mine and tries to get me censured, fired, or blackballed.
Despite all that, I am still firmly convinced that discussing all these topics, as I find I have thoughts worth sharing about them, is the right thing for me. First, no one is forced to find or read my online thoughts. I don’t use official game company venues for anything not game related (not even the tiny game company I run). Reading through my blogs, twitter, and Facebook posts, or watching my YouTube videos, is an entirely voluntary activity. If anyone doesn’t like what I have to say, or how I say it, or how I moderate the online spaces under my control, they are free to go elsewhere.
I also don’t feel that someone who spends money on products that I benefit from financially has bought anything beyond my work within that book. Even backers of my Patreon are paying to encourage my content and make suggestions, not to own any right to censor me. I do not owe any public group more of my time or headspace just because they buy the things that pay for my career.
Even if what they dislike is how my politics or personal experiences influence what or why or when I write, their right to have an opinion does not equal their right to try to dictate mine. As long as I own the impact of my writing, I feel entirely free to write what I feel is most important, or most fun, or most helpful, as I am moved to do so. As I rule, I welcome public feedback. When that feedback shows me a segment of the public is using my online space to do harm, or arguing in bad faith, or even just pissing me off, I also reserve the right to stop taking that feedback.
Not every opinion is equally valid or valuable. The right of people to speak in their own space, or even to do so free of government censorship, is not the same as a right to force me to listen. As I note, people are free to tune me out. And, online, I am free to mute them.
While I do not believe my writing has any major impact on the world, where it does have an impact I believe it has on the balance been more good than evil. Not the least of that good is that when I get something badly wrong, expressing my thoughts gives people a chance to offer how I am mistaken, and allows me to examine such claims. I have changed my mind about a lot of things over my life, from the crucial to the trivial, and expect to change my mind about many more before I go silent.
I hope some people gain comfort from my writing now and then. I hope some find inspiration. I hope some are amused. I hope some are edified.
I hope some snort, roll their eyes, and wonder why they still talk to me.
But on every topic where I have something I am ready to say, I plan to say it. And accept the (generally very minor) consequences of doing so.
It’s fairly common for people to tell me they think I have gone too far.
Certainly once or twice, I have.
That makes me wiser and gives me a broader experience base to draw from when deciding what I am ready to say in the future.
It does not convince me to stop saying all these things.
Speaking of my writing, if you DO find any of these helpful, entertaining, or in some way worth your time, please consider backing my Patron. Just a few bucks a month is the most direct (and one of the cheapest) ways to support my words and videos.
American Fighter was born Roy Wood to an unwed mother in 1925. Of Irish/German descent, he showed no particular faults or aptitudes as a child, getting unremarkable grades and managing well enough for a child with first no father, then a largely absent step-father, who left the family by the time Roy was 15. He was remembered as a shy boy who worked in a car shop and sang in the school glee club.
He graduated from high school in 1943, and immediately enlisted in the United States Marines. Ordered to a Repair and Overhaul unit in the Pacific, he was exposed to a mix of experimental gasses from secret super-soldier programs being run at the same facility. His skin, uniform, and helmet became significant more resilient, able to bounce small arms fire and even survive antimaterial and anti-tank munitions. He was immediately given a nom de masque of American Fighter, and sent into much of the worst island fighting. Though American Fighter is often depicted in posters and art of the era standing with the heroes of Liberty Force who operated in Europe, he never served with them, and only rarely met any of Liberty Force’s members.
In 1946 he was discharged, and moved to Los Angeles to live with his mother. He tried to join the Liberty Guard, a national hero teams forming at the time, but was rejected for low academic standards. When he was spotted by a scout for the Universal utility corporation, which was interested in creating hero teams to protect their own interests and garner positive P.R., he was signed to a lengthy U.U. “taxi hero” contract. The taxi heroes were paid on a per-mission basis and assigned to regions and teams as determined by U.U’s Hero Relations department.
American Fighter was initially assigned to the Coastal Crimefighters, who largely opposed the Undertow Gang of underwater pirates. While he was always assigned back-up or support roles, he also received training from Universal Utility handlers in public speaking, judicial law, small unit tactics, horseback riding, and etiquette. As he was photogenic he also came to be featured heavily in hero-themed magazines, despite his relatively minor activity level. Through the late 1940s and into 1952, he also worked with the Freedom Hawks, Hero Cadets, and on loan as one of the Big Man’s “irregulars”
In 1952, American Fighter was assigned as the team leader of the Furious Five, with the more experienced heroine Talavera as the team secretary and unofficial second-in-command. Talavera had worked with American Fighter in the Freedom Hawks, and had a career that went back to before WWII. The Five quickly grew to be too popular to keep as a single unit, and each was moved to taxi hero roles in other groups for part of every year from 53-55, with American Fighter serving as second-in command for the Hero’s Horizon and then standing as the leader of the Law Breed when founder Golden Blade was injured in the line of duty.
In 1953, a new villain struck the we coast. Known only as the Obsession, this mastermind combined complex heists with random acts of mayhem and violence and terrorist attacks using clouds of psychotropic drugs that made coordinated responses by local authorities almost impossible. The Obsession began to co-opt and unify organized crime west of the Rockies, and Universal Utility suffered multiple significant thefts and kidnappings for ransom. U.U. turned all its Hero Relations resources to bringing the Obsession to justice. In a Los Angeles raid on August 4, 1954, American Fighter was part of a small team that breached the Obsession’s base of operations, and American Fighter delivery the knockout blow to the crazed villain—immediately elevating himself to major hero status.
By 1955 American Fighter was voted one of the ten most popular and effective heroes in American by Modern Hero Magazine. Universal Utility immediately made him the focus of multiple teams, including the newly-renamed Fighting Five, the Freedom Brigade, and the Giants of Justice.
However, his popularity waned within a decade. By 1965 the Fighting Five and Giants of Justice had been disbanded, and American Fighter had been moved to “emeritus” status in the Freedom Brigade, to make room for new heroes such as Repulsor, Fast Cat, Chiller, and Doctor Phoenix.
During this time it became well known in the hero community that American Fighter was gay. He was discrete about his privacy, and little attention was publicly paid to the question at the time. His handlers as U.U. worked strenuously to keep his private life out of the public eye.
American Fighter left the Fighting Five (which disbanded a few years later, though numerous revivals have been attempted) when his U.U contract ended, and tried live as an agent of S.T.E.E.L. (Special Taskforce on Espionage and Enforcement of Law), and then as one of the Strangefellow, and finally as the leader of the Second Chances (a time-travelling group that worked to fix minor disasters in such a way as to not affect history in any other major way). Though none of these efforts were considered noteworthy at the time, the Second Chances have in recent years come to be considered one of the few truly successful time-travelling hero teams.
Moving back to traditional hero teams, American Fighter joined The Undefeated, a team of U.S. heroes operating overseas in 1969. The team was fairly well-known as successful, but their operations had a high financial and political cost, and they were disbanded in 1971. From ’71 to ’77, American Fighter settled down in San Francisco, and operated with the Heroine Saint Angel as part-time, local heroes taking on minor regional issues. He and Saint Angel married, but quietly divorced in ’76, though still working as crimefighting partners for a year after that.
A lifetime of heavy drinking and smoking began to take its toll in the late ‘70s and early 80s. American Fighter participated in a number of one-time mass hero operations, but could not catch on as a permanent member of a hero team. He notably took part in the Avalanche Wars in 1978 and the Martian Campaigns in 1980. An effort was made to build a new team around him, the Devlin Dogs, in 1981, including adding Fighting Youth to the rooster, the son of American Fighter and Saint Angel from before their marriage as a teen sidekick. However, multiple bypass heart surgery sidelined American Fighter a few months after the team launched, and though he returned to it after recover, the team disbanded within a year after that.
He joined the Dynasty of Warriors in 1984, but was clearly past his prime and often contributed little to major conflicts.
Unknown to the public, American Fighter was diagnosed with HIV in 1984, just one year after the initial identification by scientists of the HIV virus. The hero kept the disease secret for many months while working with old colleagues to search for a cure. His health was visible declining. Rumors began to spread that he had liver cancer, but eventually his publicist announced that American Fighter had AIDS. As one of the first well-known American heroes to be publicly diagnosed with AIDS, this sparked a national debate about his sexuality and the disease.
American Fighter died in October, 1985, of infections related to the AIDS virus.
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