One fine Monday Morning in 2003.

My Forge joining date

Three years ago last Friday I joined The Forge, a community for independent game designers. Two years ago, I did book design for Dogs in the Vineyard with Vincent. Last year I released Under the Bed and designed the book for The Mountain Witch. This year, my name is in: Under the Bed, Shock: Social Science Fiction, Dogs in the Vineyard (though Vincent has moved on to a different and better page design), The Mountain Witch, Kwaidan (assuming we get it printed in time), The Prince’s Kingdom, and The Shadow of Yesterday.

I never looked back. This is a great experience for me. It’s the most excellent thing you can imagine, to be making work of your own that does what you want it to do, and working with other, brilliant, wonderful people who are doing the same thing, each in their own, unique, passionate, and contradictory way.

The Beats

We’re making something good, you dig? It’s like the fucking Beats (with less serious drug problems) or Parisian Bohemians circa 1890. We’re making something new, something that changes the way people see. We’re making art and the art is good.

Right now, Vincent is off in Berlin with Ron Edwards at a convention, organized by Ron, of Cold War spy geeks. He’s made a game, Spione, that is part of the broad activity he’s encouraging. He’s breaking new ground and a lot of us are watching closely to see what he unearths. I’m happy with him taking the risks on this; if he’s right, there will be plenty of gold pie to dig up and everyone can have a piece; if he’s wrong, it costs me nothing to learn from his mistakes.

A Scanner Darkly

I just got back from A Scanner Darkly last night, thinking about how well it worked as a Philip K. Dick story; the paranoia, the floaty perspective on reality. I read the Wikipedia article on the book and it really got me thinking: What did it cost Dick to write that story? For Del Rey to publish it? A few thousand dollars? Tens? And this movie, which took years and years to make (and it paid off. It’s great.) cost hundreds of thousands or millions. And they say the same thing. Naturally, the book is more subtle and the movie is more visually impactful.

What did I learn?

Storytelling is fucking cutting edge. What we’re doing now, making systems for storytelling, is the application of actual social technologies directly to our nervous systems. The effects we generate, the gnarliness of the stories themselves, the bang:buck is huge. Maybe Ben Lehman is right: maybe our society has crippled our ability to tell stories. Maybe Ron is right, that a lot of us are brain damaged because we’ve learned systems that deprived us of our storytelling tools.

But I think what we’re doing is new ground. We’re opening fresh wounds in the hide of the mediocrity that sells itself to us, that would purport to sell us meaning. We’re making our own fun, making our own meaning, making our own reality.

It’s like drugs that we’ve made out of our friends’ relationships with us. We all get to share the hallucination and learn from it together. We learn things about ourselves, each other, and the world. It’s a psychedelic experience of the best kind, where set and setting pre-approved, your friends at hand urging you to new arenas and you returning the favor.

The last three years have taught me a lot about art, a lot about craft, a lot about friends and mutualism. I raise my cup to Luke, Vincent, Clinton, Ron, Keith the mutherfucker, and my other companions in this Great Work. I wish your art power, your lives passion, and your deaths meaning.

The Future of Toys is in… imagination?

Hot Wheels Logo

Over at BusinessWeek (of all things), there’s an interview with Gary Swisher, “Vice President of Wheels Design” at Mattell, which puts him in charge of the Hot Wheels, Matchbox, and Tyco lines of car and car-like toys. He says some stuff that I think is pretty neat:

In the old days we would introduce technology for the sake of technology. Today’s kids are not impressed by technology—it’s just a given… Having technology is not the feature. The magic that it brings to the toy is the feature.

Well, rock on! Couple that with this comment:

The biggest thing we grapple with is exciting a kid’s imagination. Toys are the tools of imagination.

He also points out that video games have their own value — friendly competition, primarily, but imagination is not among the things they encourage. I think he’s right on about that. Man, I hope the dude’s right. Coupled with The Long Tail, this is a pretty optimistic view of the future of media.

the long tail

The Long Tail
Chris Anderson of Wired magazine talks about niche media and products on NPR. This comes from his book, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Buisiness Is Selling Less of More.
He talks about YouTube — many YouTube videos are as viewed as TV shows — and microbreweries, including Anheuser-Bucsh’s massive microbrewery effort and Amazon’s (very interesting sounding) 140,000th favorite album.
This has direct implications for those of us in small publication. He makes an interesting misjudgement, though: that it’s good enough for artists to get recognition on YouTube, rather than getting paid. What he doesn’t see — and this is weird — is that niche products command boutique prices. I mean, would I prefer to sell 10x as many copies of Shock: to make 1.1x the money? Sure! But until that threatens to happen, I’ll keep my prices the way they are, and that’s pretty good money. It makes it worth the effort. It’s already paid for printing and shipping. Now it’s starting to pay for GenCon. It will start to pay me back as soon as it ships and regular orders start.
Artists, contrary to popular belief, like to get paid and eat food.
The challenge Robert Siegal puts forth, though, is a real one: how to make niche creation pay sustainably?

Shock: now in Real Thing format!

Shock: first promo cover
I understand why some women have a thing for guys in uniform. Sometimes that uniform is brown, and sometimes when that uniform is brown, the dude brings you the proof of Shock: Social Science Fiction.
There are a couple of tweaks to do and my editor (i.e. Carrie Bernstein, i.e. my wife) is going to give it a once-over. And I have to lean a bit on my printing rep to do the last piece of the job (it’s supposed to have a matte finish and it doesn’t — it looks kinda nice this way, but decisions are decisions.) Then it ships to Brennan and me, then to you!

Hoo fucking ray!

These are the final two illustrations from Shock: Social Science Fiction. I put them here as a way to mark my triumph, for it has taken to the air and is on its way to press as we speak. I should have proofs in a few days. Barring proof-revealed disaster, it should be on the way to mailboxes two weeks after that.

Last chance for pre-order

Shock: cover, unfolded
Shock: Social Science Fiction will be heading out to press tomorrow, Monday. That means that all those who have pre-ordered should be getting your hot orange square sometime in the next couple of weeks. That also means that this is the last chance to pre-order Shock: Social Science Fiction.
The back of the book reads:

Science Fiction with Meaning
The glint of flexing steel skin and the challenges it brings to its owner. An alien language, whispered in a dream telling truths no one wants to know. Towers a thousand miles tall populated by coarse corporate overlords and surrounded by its impoverished workers.
Explore the hopes and dreams you have for science and technology. Plumb the depths as they go awry and turn on their masters.
Shock: Social Science Fiction is a fiction game that gives you the tools to tell those stories, to build a world and people it with the characters that make it work the way you want it to.
Author Ben Lehman’s original story Who Art in Heaven, taken from an actual game of Shock: is included with running rules explanation.
Grab that raygun and put it in the service of your ideas.
For 3 to 5 players.

I can’t wait to get this thing out the door.

Mike Mearls knows what’s what.

Mike Mearls, big cheese over at D&D, just wrote this very encouraging article over at his Lj. If you haven’t read it, do. Then read the handwringing below where people worry that “Self-Publishing is Good” really means “THE RPG IDNUSTRY SI DOMED!”.