Acron

VR question, Oculus Quest edition. My family is LOVING the game Acron — one person wears the VR headset and plays as a tree, throwing boulders and slime at pesky squirrels trying to steal acorns. At least two other people play with you, as the squirrels, using an app on their phones / tablets.

It’s the perfect level of fun for us and the kids (ages 10 and 13), and my only complaint is that it’d be nice if you could play with just one other person, because often Anand and I are up for a game, and Kevin and Kavi aren’t. But aside from that, it’s great.

As far as I can tell, though, I can’t find any other games like this, which sort of bewilders me, because I’d think this would be a super-natural format for VR family gaming, given that the headsets are expensive and you probably aren’t going to buy one for every member of the family. Are there games that my Googling is not helping me find? Are they just in development now, and we have to wait?

I’m aware of the escape room-style games, which we’ll try at some point, but right now, I’d really just like more in this vein, fun action games, cute cheery graphics.

Encore on Zoom

Hey, when cataloging my games, it occurred to me that Encore might actually work on Zoom. Most singing stuff doesn’t, because of lag, but with Encore, you’re taking turns.

Anyone who’s played the game, what do you think? Might be a fun thing to try, and I think you only need one person who owns the game, really, who can read off the cards and move the markers, sharing screen as needed?

Jump Space RPG

I’ve been trying to think about what to do with my Jump Space RPG. This is a SF role-playing game suitable for playing around the dining table with your family (I’d say kids should be at least teens for this one, as there’s a fair bit of romance possibility) or roommates, or on Zoom with friends.

I don’t think I have the time or energy to do a big Kickstarter, etc., but I do want to release it to the public. I’m thinking of offering it for something like $5 on my Shopify store.

Then I might also host occasional sessions myself, open to those who have bought the game (I guess I’d need to make it first-come, first-served, in case 5000 people buy it and want to play with me, but that does seem a bit unlikely), so people can have a little guidance on how you play this kind of thing, if they haven’t before.

I could also possibly record a game I play with friends, and have it up as a demo, if that’d be helpful? Although play-through is usually about 2 hours, so that seems a lot. Maybe we record it all, and then just present some bits of it, skimming forward?

What do people think?

Board Game Trades

I’m trying to figure out if there’s a responsible way to manage board game trades in the neighborhood during pandemic times.

We have at least 50 or so very good (and somewhat pricey) games, and I’d be happy to loan many of them out for, say, a week, to a responsible family to add some variation to their summer sheltering-in-place. Porch pick-up with a ‘due date’ seems reasonable to me.

I’m not generally concerned about coronavirus on surfaces, but people who are being careful could pick up a game on Sunday, quarantine it for 3 days, have it to play Thurs – Sat, drop it back off on Sunday.

Thoughts?

Tried Supernatural VR

Tried out Supernatural VR app — basically like Beat Saber, but 360, which is a little harder and more interesting, with more squats and lunges, and more of a gym / exercise / dance vibe. Free for the first 30 days, $20 / month thereafter, so am planning to try it for a month, see if I do it regularly.

I’ve just done the tutorial so far, planning to try it out for real tomorrow.

A project that crystallized last week

So, I think I’m ready to talk a little about this new project that crystallized last week. (Photo of dragonfruit chocolate bars ‘crystallized’ for inspiration.)

 

There are multiple elements coming together in this, things I’ve been working on and thinking about for a long time. I’m still not positive of what the final shape will be.

• the memoir: I’ve been working for a while on a project titled _Domestic Resistance_, a meditation on how we stay sane while under siege in the Trump presidency, how handwork and reclamation of heritage skills, appreciation of culture and diversity, celebration of community and the joys of making all came together to sustain me (as I worked on my Sri Lankan cookbook in the last few years) through intense work, deep political frustration, and occasional flailings of despair. Asking how we can work for change without exhausting ourselves.

• the makerspace: we may have found a place in Forest Park for the first stage of the writing / textile arts / tech makerspace that we started planning two years ago. Our hope is that it allows the community to share their knowledge, help each other over the initial humps of uncertainty and anxiety, finding our way to new skills and approaches that make our lives better in a host of ways. I have some legal and financial details to work out still, and then there’ll be a Kickstarter to help get us off the ground (looking for around $25K in initial funding, I think), but I hope we’ll be up and running soon, possibly by May.

(NOTE: the space won’t be wheelchair accessible, unfortunately; you’ll need to be able to navigate a flight of stairs to access it. My plan is that if people who can’t access it want to sign up for a class, we’ll find an alternate accessible location for that class. And then long-term, we’ll continue looking for accessible spaces in the area. Ideally, I’d eventually like to grow into a constellation of spaces in Forest Park, Oak Park, Austin, etc.)

• the magazine: this is the newest bit, and still a bit inchoate. For my memoir, I was already thinking that I wasn’t sure I wanted to write a traditional book — I was wondering what it might look like as a quarterly magazine, sort of a cross between Martha Stewart Living and Granta. Glossy, beautiful photos, a year in the life, combining running for office, the tail end of cancer treatment, the house and garden and parenting and engaging in local politics, and of course, cooking.

Last week, I realized that it would be SO GREAT to extend that into a broader publication. I’ve been increasingly frustrated by how balkanized communications media are becoming, and at least locally, we’re really splitting demographically, with some people reading the print Wednesday Journal, some people mostly on FB groups (often very private ones), some people mostly auditory listeners, and the kids are on TikTok and SnapChat doing god knows what…

If we had a publication that showcased progressive voices and conversations, in a variety of areas (garden, food, schools, etc.) and if we could push it out in multiple media (a print version, an online version, a podcast, TikToks, etc.), maybe we’d have a chance at actually talking to each other, actually listening.

So often when I was running for office, I found that with something as simple as getting rid of fines at the library, people I talked to were initially resistant, but all they needed was for someone to actually present the argument to them, and then they realized that yes, doing this would actually align with their values. And we could afford it too.

*****

That’s where my head is right now. I have a lot more specifics, but I think the next stage is a whole host of conversations. I’m going to want to shape this very carefully, if it’s to do what I hope it’ll do, and I’m going to need a lot of community input.

But I think my own memoir would be interesting in conversation with a broader community magazine, and the magazine would be in conversation with what we do at the makerspace, and as Serendib Press develops, Stephanie and Heather and Darius and Emmanuel and Julia are learning more and more about the publication process, so we’re getting into a better position to do this well.

So that’s where I am right now. I’m about to go out of town, and much of March is super-absorbed with travel and Feast launch events. But I’m going to be talking to people, local and otherwise, about all of this. We’ll see where it takes us.

(We’re going to need a name.)

Hey, folks — here’s my schedule for FogCon next week in Walnut Creek!

Hey, folks — here’s my schedule for FogCon next week in Walnut Creek! I hope to see some of you there: https://fogcon.org

Friday:
3:00 PM – 4:15 PM, Salon A/B “Food in Genre Fiction”
Inspired by Mary Anne Mohanraj’s latest publication being a cookbook, let’s think about food and its place in genre fiction! In stories where a stranger visits a new culture, we often hear about their food choices (Becky Chambers’s “Record of a Spaceborn Few” comes to mind). Food can be a marker of similarity or difference between people, and ultimately, it is a necessity. When our worlds change, what happens to the food in them?

M: Sasha Pixlee. Rebecca Gomez Farrell, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Tina LeCount Myers, Deborah J. Ross, Juliette Wade

4:30 PM – 5:45 PM, Salon C, POC Meetup
Social gathering for members who identify as people of color (only, please). We’ll share questions, experiences, and solidarity. Coffee and tea will be provided. Anyone who wants can also bring their own snacks, from the Consuite or elsewhere.
M: Abie Ekenezar

7:45 PM – 8:00 PM, Salon A/B, “Opening Ceremonies”
We’ll start the convention off with a brief gathering to meet the Honored Guests and hear some words from the Honored Ghost.

8:00 PM – 9:15 PM, Salon A/B “Societal Defaults That Carry Into Genre”
Genre fiction allows us to imagine worlds and cultures completely different from ours, yet sometimes some cultural assumptions are so ingrained that we don’t consider them changeable. For example, Mary Anne Mohanraj’s “The Stars Change” is a book that challenges the assumption of monogamy. What other assumptions do we see carrying into the new spaces and cultures we create? How can we break out of those?
M: Lisa Eckstein. Karen Brenchley, Garrett Croker, Alyc Helms, Mary Anne Mohanraj

Saturday:
9:00 AM – 10:15 AM, Salon A/B “Archives and Genre”
Archives are science fictional: archivists have to anticipate climate change, the evolution of technology, and how historians will view the present day. Archives are fantastical: they involve a deep encounter with the past, redolent of parchment, leather, and the dust of vanished information. This panel will explore archives as an SFF-nal phenomenon, as well as portrayals of archives and archivists in science fiction and fantasy.
M: Michele Cox. Marion Deeds, Bradford Lyau, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Norm Sperling

1:30 PM – 2:45 PM, Salon A/B “Genre Nonprofits With Mary Anne Mohanraj”
Mary Anne will share what she’s learned about nonprofits and the field, discussing con-running and organizations such as Con or Bust, Strange Horizons, and her own Speculative Literature Foundation. Topics may include succession planning, professionalization (and its hazards), organizational growth, fundraising, inclusiveness / exclusion, and realistic enforcement of convention codes of conduct.
Mary Anne Mohanraj (This description and title got fixed and updated in the app but not the printed version of the program; my apologies, but we didn’t catch it in time.)

3:00 PM – 4:15 PM, Santa Rosa “Honored Guest Reading”
Mary Anne Mohanraj, Nisi Shawl

Saturday evening: No schedule — maybe run RPG of “Jump Space”?

Sunday morning: No schedule — maybe run RPG of “Jump Space”?

Alpha-test RPG

Thanks again to folks who came out to alpha-test my first RPG. It went really well, I think!

Benjamin Rosenbaum‘s game, Dream Apart, is about a marginalized community in the shadow of a majority. Mine isn’t quite that — I was more interested in exploring how everyday people create family (found or otherwise), and how we try to deal well with each other in the shadow of larger-scale conflict, even war. That’s been a major theme of my work throughout, from my mainstream Bodies in Motion to the SF stories in The Stars Change, etc. I’m really loving seeing it played out in game form.

 

Will play-test again next month, April 4 at my place; let me know if you’d like to join us. I’m recommending this be a 3-6 player game, but if we have a lot of people, we can always split up into two ships.  And I think Alex Gurevich and I will be play testing it at FogCon next weekend in Walnut Creek, if we can find 1-2 more people; let me know if you’d like to join for that!

A little post-game analysis now; it’ll make more sense if you read a few paragraphs of set-up notes:

*****

JUMP SPACE: The Emerging War

Welcome to the Jump Space universe. We’re about 200 years in the future, circa 2200 as humans count years. In the mid-2050s, human spacecraft discovered a “black box” machine at the edge of our solar system; it proved to contain a gift: a prototype for a Jump drive, and a map which marked certain wormholes one could use to traverse a much wider galaxy. Jumping is always a little risky — a tiny percentage of ships never come out of Jump. But humans have been exploring for quite some time now, have settled various systems and set up different types of government, and have met lots of other species along the way.

There is much still to explore; the galaxy is vast.

GAME BACKGROUND & SET-UP

In this game, you’re one of 3-6 people on a Jump ship. You’ve come together in a small event-hosting business that’s also something of a found family. Your quest is to keep your business and community going in a sometimes hostile universe — war has been brewing, with tensions rising between the ‘pure human’ movement, the humods (those genetically modified, either before or after birth, sometimes visibly, sometimes not), and the non-humans.

During the session, you’ll play through interactions with your fellow crew members, as you spend long stretches together in the close confines of a ship (travel between Jump points is fairly slow), and decide whether to stop on certain planets for work. You make your joint living through a combination of event-hosting (bringing in exotic flowers for a fancy wedding, for example) and general trade (Denebian crystal-dreams are hot right now on Tharsis).

Relationships are key: Some of you may be biologically related. Some of you may be dating or partnered with others of you (poly and queerness are norms in this culture; monogamy is also possible, or not being romantically or sexually interested at all). This is ideally played as an intergenerational game, with some of you as parents (we strongly encourage you to have children on the ship; the facilitator may play the children’s / parents’ roles if no other players are interested).

The question at the end of a session is always — does this community want to stay together as it is? Do members want to break off? Do you want to welcome others in? There are no right or wrong answers here, even if the community breaks apart at the end.

*****

There’s a bunch more in the guidelines, but that’s probably enough to go on for this post.

The basic structure is a roughly 3-hr game that you can drop people into with no prep (at home, at a convention, etc.). My goal is to have the rules, background, and character creation take no more than 20-25 minutes, so that you can then dive into gameplay. We were able to do that yesterday, and have three solid ‘scenes’ in the next 2.5 hrs, ending with a satisfying climax scene.

I’m of course excited to have people playing games set in my Jump Space universe; it’s a sheer delight hearing them engage with my material. None of them had actually read any of my fiction in that universe, I think (maybe Heather, a bit?), which was great — I wanted to be sure that reading the fiction wasn’t a prerequisite to having a fun and satisfying game.

Part of what became clear during game-play was that I had skimped on some of the critical background. While people were happy to invent their own aliens and their own gene-modded and psi powers, a little guidance as to typical possibilities would have helped — I’m thinking maybe a set of six possibilities that people can either choose from or roll a die for, along with encouragement to create their own beyond that.

I think I’m also going to give them the option of either ‘free-form’ or more plot-heavy play. You can just roam the galaxy, hang out with your crew, see what happens. Or you can use some suggested scenarios as a starting point, and play out something with a clearer plot arc — choices to make, big consequences, leading to a climax, etc.

Players wanted to know more about how spaceflight and communications worked, so I needed to add just a line or two about that. And I clearly needed to add more background about the universe as a whole — government structures, relationships between species, and the emerging war.

I had them roll a die at the end of each scene to determine whether the war intrudes or not. That worked reasonably well, but I think for this particular iteration of Jump Space, where the theme is the war that is just beginning to emerge throughout the galaxy, some of what I’d like the game to explore would be lost if the day’s gameplay never touched on war.

So I think next time, I’m going to tweak that a bit — in the last ‘scene’ of the day’s play, I’m going to recommend that players do plan on having the war affect play. No dice roll, just assume it’s become significant enough to be inescapable.

Not necessarily in a big way — in the particular game we played, there were a few instances of anti-genemod ‘racism’ that the crew had to deal with (one of them had adopted some war orphans, little kids with visible modifications, which led to harassment); none of those incidents turned violent, but they could have.

It also turned out that the ship’s accountant had made investments in what she thought was a company rebuilding on war-torn planets, essentially a NGO, and then it was revealed that the company was actually war profiteers, contributing to the conflict in order to make more money. Now the crew will have to deal with that information — some know, some don’t. How will they react when they do find out? Will it break the crew apart?

Maybe the most satisfying parts for me were:

a) They all really seemed to have a good time — lots of invention, lots of laughter, lots of creative collaborative storytelling, building off each others’ efforts. (None of them really knew each other in advance, either.) Some of them were more plot-oriented, some more interested in acting their bits out, but it all basically worked, and people seemed engaged straight through the three hours.

b) They bonded as a crew! They want to play at least some of the same people next time, and I love that they’ve gotten so attached. I’ve given them ownership of their characters, and permission to go off and do whatever they want with them in my universe — write stories, draw sketches, build dolls, whatever. I didn’t anticipate that they’d bond so quickly to the characters and the crew, but I love it. They really got some of the community feeling I was going for.

And if this game ends up leading people to think a little more about how we create intentional community and take care of each other in a harsh universe, that would be okay with me.