Sunday, 6 November 2016

In Praise of the Singular They

So, yeah, it's 2016 and we pretty much live in the future. I can access all of the world's knowledge from a little brick in my pocket, drones buzz overhead recording the world in motion, and the US military is finally field testing frickin' lasers. Hell, the Cubs just won the world series, only one year after Robert Zemeckis predicted they would back in 1989. Pretty cool.

I am digressing again. Right. I am a game designer and this blog is about how I write and design games. But since this is my blog and I can talk about whatever I want, and today I am going to talk about gendered pronouns and the magic of the "Singular They".

Some Background
I was born in '79 and remember the '80s pretty well. In gaming terms, this makes me a little too young to be a Grognard, but too old to be a new kid in the industry. I am pushing into early middle age, and that means I can remember the way things used to be, and they SUCKED! Being a geek and nerd sucked and I took constant flack for it. I felt unfairly discriminated against by all the "normal" people out there, and it made me angry, bitter, and vicious. In took me years to realize what an idiot I was. Being a gamer and nerd is a social choice that I made and kept making again and again. I chose to be what I was every day. At any moment I could have abandoned my hobbies and joined the mainstream (whatever that is). I already had a good job and a decent education, if I stopped spending my evenings and weekends obsessing over giant robots and magical warriors, I could have found an acceptable niche to fit in. I'm sure people would always find me a little odd, but I could have made the effort. Instead, I yelled, "FRAK THAT NOISE!" and doubled down on my geekery. It worked out well, I am doing well, and people buy my games from time to time.

The Problem
Well, that took longer than it should have, back to design. Edge and Remnants used gendered pronouns: he, she, his, hers, etc. to describe people. Specifically, the nebulous, anonymous players of the games. I tried to switch it up and give some gender balance, but the result was always kind of clunky, and I favoured the male pronouns, especially in Remnants. Now, I had multiple incentives to fix this:
-Financial. I want my products to appeal to as many customers as possible.
-Efficiency. I hate complex, inelegant solutions to problems (standard model, I'm lookin' at you)
-Ethics. Not sure how, but somewhere along the line I picked up this idea that everyone should get fair and equal treatment regardless of race, gender, orientation, or lifestyle. Weird.

By the time Warbirds rolled around, we changed our style rules. If we knew the gender of the character or player in question, we use he or she as normal, but if we didn't, we used the singular they. Problem solved.

The Solution
For the record, I was not clever enough to solve this problem. That falls to the folks over at Post-Human studios and their game Eclipse Phase. It's a sci-fi/existential horror game set in a post-human future where people change bodies like we change clothes. I won't review the game in full, we're here to talk about pro-nouns. Because Eclipse Phase characters can change bodies so easily, gender becomes something of a moot point. So the writers had to deal with a world where a character can have as much gender fluidity or ambiguity as they wished. The writers solved the problem the same way I just did in the last sentence. I said "a character" which is a form of singular, but then said "they wished" which is plural. Did you notice? Did you care? Did it make sense? Damn right it did! In one fell swoop I pissed off English teachers everywhere, and made a coherent gender-neutral sentence. Behold the magic of the "singular they" and let's thank Posthuman Studios for resurrecting it in RPG writing.

Wait, What?
Oh, you didn't know? The singular they date's back to the 14th century. Wikipedia it. I'll wait. It was only in the 1800's that modern critics started whining that it wasn't correct. Well, you know what? They are dead wrong. We need the singular they for more than just gender neutral RPG writing. It provides a grammatically simple way to solve the problem of referring to anyone of indeterminate gender. I have seen some writers use the term "Xe" for being a gender neutral term (neither he nor she, and pronounced "Zee"), it works ok, but I prefer the singular they. First, I like science and upon reading Xe, I immediately wondered what Xenon gas (chemical symbol Xe) has to do with anything, and second, I prefer simplicity. Using Xe invents new words and lexicon, whereas the singular they does neither. Most people use it anyways, and just never think about (except for English teachers).

Circling Back
So, I started off with my background, so let's return to it. My life is pretty damn good. I have a loving family, a good job, and a kick-ass gaming company. This all came from two things: An enormous bucket of luck, and a few good choices. I thought I had it hard, but I didn't. But there are people out there that do have it hard. We push them to edges of society for being different and non-conforming, or even just looking different, but unlike me, they cannot choose to leave it behind. They are that way down to their very core and they cannot conceal it without lying to themselves and the world. The world is slowly learning how horribly it treats people, and each of us can take small steps to improve that treatment. My little step is the singular they.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Back With Big News

Yeah, I disappeared for a few months again. Sorry about that. I've been a little busy with life and health things. So fifty pounds lost and six months later, I am back on my blog with some cool news. Outrider Studios has two projects approaching completion, and we will be debuting them (unless we hit a snag) at the Origins Game fair in Columbus, Ohio. Hooray!

Space Age!
The first book is Warbirds Space Age, our Space Opera conversion book for the Warbirds. It fast-forwards the timeline of the game into the stars, and the Guild starts exporting their antics to local alien civilizations. We plan to sell it as a PDF, and in a print-on-demand omnibus combined with the WWII and Jet Age Soucebooks. This book would have been out sooner, but Dim, our award winning super artist, is a busy guy and is only just now able to get to our artwork. I am super excited for this one, and it should make it easier for people looking to hack Warbirds for a certain setting that contains stars, and, dare I say it, wars.

Broken Lands II
So this one has been an albatross around my neck for a while now. Fans always ask when the next Remnants book is coming out, and I never have a good answer. The truth is, the Broken Lands setting is hard to write for. I tried so hard with the first book to keep things ambiguous, that I struggle now that I have to dive into the specifics. There have been other problems too, the biggest being time. I just haven't dedicated enough time and energy to dedicate to the book. So despite having a full outline and a big bucket of ideas, the project languished.

But not anymore! One of the unique aspects of my day job is mandatory time off. If I don't take all of my vacation days each year, I have to go on leave to use them all up before the end of March. So I spent all of last week not at work and with nowhere to go. So I decided to write a book. I spent five days in the local Denny's restaurant and pounded the keyboard while eating mediocre breakfast food. The staff was friendly and polite as I ignored everyone and everything and blasted out 4000 words a day for five days. This is a very bad idea, by the way, and I decided to document my slow slide into bleary-eyed misery.

Day 1: Enthusiastic Determination
Look me. I'm almost smiling. This is especially difficult for me, as several people have claimed that I don't just write about robots, but I am an emotionless robot. Anyways, it only gets worse from here.

Day 2: Focused Intent
At 4000 words in, I still look alright, but I've got the weird look in my eyes that says my soul is screaming on the inside. I held it together, OK on Day 2, but it was my least productive day.

Day 3: Mounting Consternation
This is where I transition from intellectually knowing that this was a bad idea to actually feeling its affects. The constant stream of diet coke and salty diner food is driving a burning dump truck through my guts as I start to lose myself to my setting. The Broken Lands might be real now; I think I live there.

 Day 4: Crippling Exhaustion
At this point I should tell you that I am power writing during the day while burning the evening hours playing The Division. Sleep is in short supply, and  I am running purely on the magic of free drink re-fills and a twisted combination of determination and spite. I got a lot done on Day 4, and Day 5 only had to be a half day.
 Day 5: Total Burnout
It was a long road, but I crawled across the finish line with all 20 000+ words written and ready for Cait to edit. I may or may not have hallucinated things on the last day, but I'm pretty sure the gremlin insurance salesman was real. I  made sure not to buy what he was offering. You can't trust gremlins.

The Aftermath
Cait edited the book in breezy, record time, fixing all the places where my ideas went of the rails. Now it heads off to Patrick for his editing touch and format standardization. Now I just have to create the art plan, wrangle the artists, go through layout, proofing, second proofing, etc. With any luck we will have copies for Origins.

That's all for now. I will keep you in the loop.