Monday, April 9, 2018

What Do I Know About Crash Override? (This Time It's A Lot Less Ironic)

I have a confession to make. When Gamergate hit its fever pitch, I knew of Zoe Quinn as an indie game developer that was victimized by an unfortunately large percentage of the internet. In other words, I didn't go much to learn more about who she actually was as a person. No matter how sympathetic I may have been, I didn't dig very deep into her own personal story as I did the antics of those trying to ruin her life.




How Did I Miss This?

Last August, Zoe Quinn's book, Crash Override, was released. The book takes its name from the crisis site that Zoe helps to maintain, and she discusses its origins and its function in the book.

Crash Override

The particular version of the book that I purchased was the audiobook, which is also narrated by Zoe Quinn herself. There is something very appropriate to not only hear her words being read, but to also hear her story in her own voice.

Crash Override by Zoe Quinn on Amazon.com

When I saw the ad for this come up, and realized I had been missing out, I purchased the audiobook immediately. What I didn't realize was that I would listen to the entire book in one night. It was that compelling.

Point of View

The book not only recounts the events surrounding her vilification online and the perverse crusade that resulted, but also looks at her childhood, early life, and her path to indie game development. She talks about how the insanity of Gamergate affected not just her life, but the life of her family and friends, and how it spiraled out to affect other targets, as well.

However, just as important as the impact this had on her, and the discussion of how the movement reached out to new targets after it put her through hell, she also mentions the origins of the movement, and the marginalized communities that the several of her most vocal detractors attacked before her, which ties to much larger current movements online.

As horrifying as these events were at the time, its hard not to see this as a segment of the internet testing the waters to see how much the mainstream public would tolerate in the future. Quinn also explains how the core movement had very organized and specific plans for persecuting their attacks, but how that core set of tactics was easily made exponentially more effective by outliers simply sharing videos and links across the internet after they had been created.

If you think you know the extent to which the initial harassment affected her life and the lives of those around her, you probably haven't heard the worst of it, and if you think it is all in the past, you really need to hear things from Zoe's perspective, to see what she has to deal with now on a daily basis.

Deeper Perspective

It would have been fascinating to only hear Zoe Quinn tell her own story, from her perspective, but one of the extraordinary things that Quinn does in this book is to solicit the harassment stories from people that are from other marginalized groups, groups that do not receive the even the level of responsiveness that white women typically receive when reporting harassment. 

Not only does Quinn hand over the narrative in a few places to those that otherwise might not have gotten a platform, but she outlines that work that she has been doing with Crash Override. The organization helps those that have been harassed navigate the systems of various social media sites to best effect, and it works with various platforms to strengthen terms of service and enforcement.

Even then, she is candid about the degree to which various platforms actually want to affect major changes. Even when shown what is happening on their sites, many platforms still have people in positions of power that would rather ignore a problem than invest in solving them.

Zoe had no responsibility to put herself in a position where she was helping others that were suffering from harassment, but, despite the frustrations with the slow process of affecting change, it is ultimately a very uplifting section of the book to read about the passion with which she dove into advocacy.

More Than A Biography

While the book tells Zoe Quinn's story, and arguably, even explaining her work with her advocacy group could be framed as part of that story, the book does more than recount just her experiences. At various points in the story, she details watershed moments regarding the internet and how it has been used and abused over the years.

Additionally, she gives some tips on the best ways to insulate people from taking the full brunt of an internet assault, and some of the most common steps to take to begin the process of damage control in the event of a doxxing. She is also careful to point out that no amount of preparation is going to make someone immune to a full-scale assault, but that people can take steps in the right direction.

A Way Forward

For me, at least, the most uplifting part of the book deals with Zoe Quinn's perspective on empathy and moving forward. She talks about the importance of seeing people where they are now, and not where they have been. She mentions that for all the bad actors on the internet, there are many people that don't fully realize the magnitude of the things they have done when they share links to toxic sites and material.

She discusses her own youth and the fact that she may not have been the best "digital citizen" in her treatment of others, and that while she never participated in hate campaigns or doxxing, it took viewing the reactions of others when discussing her online interactions with people she disliked to realize that her own actions were not ideal. She talks about the importance of expressing what is and isn't acceptable online, without dogpiling or crusading against people.

She discusses positive ways to help people that have been harassed, such as promoting their work rather than just empathizing with them when they have been victimized. She cites as a best practice making sure to share marginalized voices speaking out against harassment to make sure they are heard, before adding your own voice, if you are not from the marginalized group.

While she never goes so far around the bend as to say that everything will turn around soon, and in fact cites a lot of issues that are complicated and ongoing, she presents an amazingly positive stance for supporting people that may be vulnerable rather than tearing down anyone that may be a problem.

Final Thoughts

I didn't know what I didn't know going into this book. Zoe Quinn's story is both heartbreaking and heartening, and I am very glad that I got to hear her story, in her words, in her voice. This book will not make you particularly happy about the state of the internet. I learned a lot more than I realized about how bad some corners of the web can be. But the perseverance and positive call to action that Zoe Quinn elaborates in this book also restores some of my faith in people.

Strongly Recommended--This product is exceptional, and may contain content that would interest you even if the game or genre covered is outside of your normal interests.

I don't normally review books, but this story was so momentous I had to look at it, and so compelling I had to put down my thoughts about it. I greatly recommend this book.


Monday, April 2, 2018

Random Encounters, Now With More Randomness!

I played around with my laminator recently and created a "deck" of encounters for when random encounters come up. The idea that I came up with is more along the lines of what type of encounter will come up, rather than exactly what shows up at a given time.



Keeping D&D 5th edition in mind, I wanted to make sure to keep the pillars of adventures in mind, so that random encounters were also reinforcing this three-pillared design as well.

How This Works


  • Whenever a random encounter might be called for, a player pulls one of these results from the deck
  • That result is set aside until all the other results are drawn, at which point it all gets reshuffled
The larger point is to make sure that I'm being pushed to having more complicated encounters, and some days that just have a lot going on at one time.

Definitions

  • Combat Encounter--Something shows up and is already hostile; this doesn't mean they can't be calmed down or negotiated with, just that without some effort, the element that shows up will be hostile to the PCs.
  • Roleplaying Encounter--Something shows up that is not immediately hostile; this doesn't mean that they can't be made hostile by the PCs, but if the PCs do nothing, the element will not be hostile to the PCs. This element that shows up has to have a desire--a merchant wants to sell his wares, an animal might try to steal food or shiny objects. Nothing should show up and not have some drive to do something, which gives the PCs something to interact with.
  • Exploration Encounter--This can either be a random element that does something to the PCs (i.e. save to avoid exhaustion or damage), something that requires the PCs to do something (road or path blocked), or something along their regular path that can be interacted with (unmarked ruins, cache of treasure or supplies, landmark, or phenomenon). There should be something the PCs either must or can interact with in a meaningful way (i.e. not "you see a burned down house and you know for sure there is nothing in it of value," versus "you see a burned down house""after exploring it, you find a journal that is partially burned")
  • "X" & "Y" Encounter--This is an encounter with multiple elements occurring concurrently or in a manner that overlaps. For example, a merchant shows up in camp and asks for shelter, and is quickly followed by thieves following them.
  • Two Encounters and Three Encounters--This indicates that there are multiple encounters on the same day, but not at the same time. Some days are rougher than others.
  • Day--This encounter takes place while the PCs are traveling from point A to point B. This is an "on the road" encounter versus an "in camp" encounter.
  • Night--This encounter takes place while the PCs are resting and setting up camp after traveling. This is an "in camp" encounter versus an "on the road" encounter.

Other Prompts and Improvisation

This method may not completely replace other kinds of encounter tables. The GM may still want a random list of hostiles, neutrals or potential allies, or exploration elements in the game. The point of this is to make sure that the GM has an idea of the context of the encounter. 

This does mean that the GM is probably going to have to improvise what happens to an extent. Some older, more traditional encounter charts can at least imply "fight or ignore" what shows up. There have certainly been more in-depth encounter charts, but I wanted to shift the idea of providing context.

Story Beats

For GMs that are very conscious of story beats, and are concerned that these random contextual encounters might mess with the flow you are trying to establish or reinforce in the game, there is one other thing to keep in mind.

Changing the risk versus reward level for any given encounter is going to change the feel of any of these encounters, as will the specific stakes.

A serious downbeat for a combat encounter can be an encounter that is clearly one that the PCs should run from. An upbeat for a combat encounter might involve a fairly quick fight where the creatures have a clue for the ongoing story and a valuable item.

A serious downbeat for a roleplaying encounter may not involve someone that will fight the PCs, but might be able to ruin their reputation or enact consequences for them when they return to civilization after their travels. An upbeat can be someone whose desire for the encounter is literally to help them, with the character bestowing gifts or healing magic if the PCs don't outright reject them.

A serious downbeat for exploration could be very dangerous, damaging weather, or something that makes the rest of the journey more difficult. An upbeat could be good weather that restores the characters' mood and removes a level of fatigue or grants inspiration, or it could be an easily found cache of a ranger's care package for travelers with food or even healing items.

Card List (For People That Don't Want to Look At My Bad Photography)

  • Two Encounters (Draw Two More Cards)
  • Three Encounters (Draw Three More Cards)
  • Combat Encounter (Day)
  • Combat Encounter (Night)
  • Roleplaying Encounter (Day)
  • Roleplaying Encounter (Night)
  • Exploration Encounter (Day)
  • Exploration Encounter (Night)
  • Combat and Roleplaying Encounter (Day)
  • Combat and Roleplaying Encounter (Night)
  • Combat and Exploration Encounter (Day)
  • Combat and Exploration Encounter (Night)
  • Roleplaying and Exploration Encounter (Day)
  • Roleplaying and Exploration Encounter (Night)
  • Combat, Roleplaying, and Exploration Encounter (Day)
  • Combat, Roleplaying, and Exploration Encounter (Night)
Inspiration (In Real Life)

While this doesn't work exactly like either of those systems, whenever I think about overland travel and random encounters, its hard for me not to think of the following game systems these days:

The One Ring
Adventures in Middle-earth (with uses the 5e OGL version of The One Ring's Journey system)
13th Age (montage travel, which appears in the GM kit and some adventures and is further discussed  here: 13th Sage--More Uses for Montages