Excuses, Excuses

There was no post on Friday. You may have noticed. Instead you get a rare Sunday post and a bevy of excuses.

First off, I was suffering from Post Dentist Stress Disorder. My visit with Sgt. Scrape went exceptionally well, actually — I don’t think he ever had more than 14 metal objects in my mouth at any given time — but I was profoundly unnerved by how much he knew about me. When you graduate from high school your permanent record is apparently transferred into your dentist’s custody. And he, my dentist, made a point of mentioning every fact he knew, perhaps trying to create a sense of intimacy (similar to the supermarket checker who, after looking at my credit card receipt, says “Have a great day, Mr. Baldwin!” — something which invariable makes me want to punch him intimately in the nametag). “So, Matthew Scott Baldwin” the dentist said, tipping the tray so that all of his tools fell into my open maw, “how’s your programming job going? You programmer. And the house search? Did you find a house? A house on 1765 46th Ave. NW, perhaps? You know, I’ve been looking over your Internet Explorer’s history file, and I can’t say I approve of all these sites you’ve been visiting…” etc, etc.

So I was already a bit on edge when I got up Friday and discovered that I was on the wrong end of a write-in campaign orchestrated by my arch-nemesisesses, the Wiccans. There had never been any bad blood betwixt the Wiccans and I before, (perhaps because I alone, of all Earth-based bloggers, refrained from mocking the Harry Potter Nimbus 2000 Amazon reviews), but it seems that one of them stumbled upon a review of a game called “Witch Trial” I had written several years ago. Details of the game were then posted to pagen.ws, along with my email address and exhortations to “drop me a line”. I’m so totally not making any of this up.

That’s how I came to be besieged by almost four angry emails. For example:

Are you insane? Can you be anymore insensitive?..do you think this dark moment in America’s history is funny? Apparently you do because, although I can see the dark humor in this (in terms of what YOU think is humorous), I can’t begin to understand what kind of sick mind you must have

Sooooo, yeah! I dare say that’s enough said on that subject. (Goddess knows I’m already going to get another three angry emails, what with my careless conflation of Wiccans and Pagans, here). Suffice to say that finding a coven in your Inbox before morning coffee does not a pleasant Friday make.

Then it was off to visit the in-laws, who inconveniently live over in Spokane. If you’re not familiar with Washington State, the whole “Seattle ~ Spokane” thing this may require a bit of explanation. You remember that Batman villain, Two-Face? Washington is exactly like that. You have the Cascades mountain range right down the middle of the state, and the two sides are (1) complete opposites and (2) always at war at each other and (3) played by Tommy Lee Jones in the motion picture. Western Washington is liberal and urban; Eastern is rural and conservative. Western Washington is constantly socked in by rain; Eastern Washington is plagued by perpetual drought. Everyone in Western Washington is hooked on heroin; everyone in Eastern Washington is addicted to methamphetamine. And driving from one side to the other is like going through the looking glass. It’s fun to set your radio to some random frequency and listen to the metamorphosis as well as watch it: you start off listening to “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” you traverse Central Washington to “Todo mi Amor (Es Tuyo)” and, by the time you arrive near the Idahoian border, you are yee-hawing to “Be My Baby Tonight”.

That’s where I spent the weekend: hanging out in an area where they have more cattle than Starbucks. My In-laws live in an honest-to-god log cabin, accompanied by the World’s best dog, the World’s toughest cats, and a guinea pig named “Slim Shady”. (Slim Shady and I have an odd relationship, owing to the fact that I ate scores of guinea pigs while living in Bolivia. It’s hard to view a critter as both an adorable pet and a potential entree.) As always, I found hanging out in the middle of nowhere to be a profoundly mind-clearing experience. Plus, Pa-In-Law, as usual, got off a couple of excellent wisecracks:

Ma-In-Law: You see that Chinese restaurant? It looks so run down that we never even considered going there until last month. But we finally tried it, and it turns out to be quite nice inside. They even had a pianist who played while we ate.

Pa-In-Law: Unfortunately, the only song he would play was “chopsticks”.

How obvious is it that I don’t really have a point, here? Anyway: I’ve returned to Seattle and the yeti is back on track. I haven’t done many reviews for the past few weeks, but expect that to change as of tomorrow.

6 thoughts on “Excuses, Excuses

  1. When I was travelling through Oregon and Washington it was a constant source of amazement that the feds chose to divide the old NW territory into halves along a line of latitude rather than longitude. “Let’s see, we can have two new states divided neatly down the middle by a range of tall impassable mountains… or we can have two states split the other way and divided amongst themselves by those very same mountains!”

  2. In Yeti Trial, you play a visitor at a personal website. You will act as prosecutor or defender of an unsavory character who finds humor in Dark Times in American History. While finding historical events funny per se isn’t really a crime, it’s customary to bring suspects into court on related offenses, such as Being Insensitive, Having a Sick Mind, and Making Inappropriate Literary Comparisons… This game requires easily-provoked reflex actions, a little bit of fiery invective, and the willingness to press ‘send’ at the end of an e-mail.

  3. I just posted this over here:

    Hello friends. I just wanted to drop a line here and address some of the commfictitiousents made both here and to me personally vie email. (I would have posted this over at pagan.ws where the discussion started, but I would apparently need an account to do so).

    Let me start by saying that the objections raised have sparked some interesting discussion, both here and over on a board games message board that I frequent. I took the liberty of reprinting the messages I had received (since the text had already been posted publicly, over at pagans.ws) and, while some dismissed the complaints out of hand, others seemed to view the game in a new light. So if the goal was to raise awareness of the ethical issues surrounding “Witch Trial,” then you’ll be pleased to know that the campaign has met with some success.

    The protest email I received dealt with two distinct but intertwined aspects of my review: the merits of the game itself, and my enjoyment (and endorsement) of the game. I think James Earnest, the designer of Witch Trial, has done a pretty good job of defending the game here and elsewhere, but I’ll explicate a bit more. “Witch Trial” does *not* deal with the Salem Witch Trials, but a series of trials which are similar to the Salem Witch Trials in that they are fundamentally illogical, and grounded in xenophobia rather than in a desire for justice. Characters in the game hauled into court for such ambiguous “crimes” as “Frowning” and “The Ol’ Hocus-Pokus”. Players then take the roles of prosecuting and defending attorneys, playing cards to try and influence the outcome of the trial. Nothing is ever said or even implied about the fate of the defendants, so, given the fact that the game is completely unmoored from reality, it’s as reasonable to assume that the victims are given a ha’penny fine as it is to assume they receive a more dire sentence.

    In truth, the defendants are not given much consideration because the game isn’t really about them. It is, instead, a rather obvious satire of the dangers of persecuting nonconformity. In fact, it is not “witches” who are spoofed at all, so much as the lawyers and the legal systems which allow people to be railroaded on such flimsy pretexts.

    The degree to which the game is an abstraction was probably not clear to most of you, given the name “Witch Trial” and my unfortunate decision to try and equate the game with “The Crucible.” My intent in drawing the comparison was to say “The Crucible uses the Salem Witch Trials as an analogy to point out the follies of McCarthyism, and this games uses the concept of Witch Trials as an analogy to point out the idiocy of xenophobia; therefore, playing the latter is similar in feel to reading the former.” Alas, it seems that I instead gave the erroneous impression that “Witch Trial” was about the same specific subject matter as “The Crucible,” which is simply not the case. The fact that my review led so many people to believe something about the game that is not true demonstrates that it was not especially well-written, and for that apologize. On the other hand, it does illustrate the perils of criticizing against something that is only known second-hand. If the offended persons had contacted James Earnest and expressed their concerns, I bet he would have been happy to send them a complimentary copy for review; and if, after having examined the actual game and rules (and maybe even giving it a whirl) the critics felt the same, this discussion would have an entirely different tone. For one thing, we could have begun without the lengthy “clarification phase” we are now having to go through.

    Onto the review. The main thrust of the criticism leveled at me appears to be “This is a bad game because it is about some bad subject matter, and you are therefore a bad person for having written a positive review of it.” But as a reviewer, my job is to judge something on the merits of *what it is*, not on what it’s about. Every email I received asked “what if it was a game about the Holocaust?” I know of no games about the Holocaust, but I’ve seen quite a few motion pictures about the Holocaust and some of them I recommend highly (Life Is Beautiful, Into The Arms of Strangers, etc. and so on). I endorse these films because they are well-made and thoughtful motion pictures, and I would dismiss anyone who intimated that watching Schindler’s List was tantamount to “celebrating the Holocaust”. Likewise, I find it hard to feel regret about expressing approbation for a good game in a game review written exclusively for game enthusiasts. Had I been reviewing Witch Trial on the basis of it’s historical accuracy, say, or judging it on the merits of the grammar on the cards, I no doubt would have written a completely different review. The question I was striving to answer in my piece was “Is this a good game?,” and to say that I was insensitive because the review gave an undesirable answer to a completly different question (“Should we persecute witches?”) is, in my opinion, a bit unfair.

    Having said all that, let me go on to state that I do *not* necessarily “stand by” my review. Were I to rewrite it today I would no doubt xplain that the game in question is *not* really about Salem Witch Trials at all, and I would take pains to point out some of the troubling implications of the subject matter. My review *is* offensive insofar as it is not written well enough to prevent people from getting the wrong idea, both about the game itself and about my own personal opinions about the evils of institutionalize groupthink.

    But one of the reasons I write so much is that I am striving to improve, and criticism like this (even the not-so-constructive kind I received via email) helps in that endeavor. I therefore apologize to anyone who took offense, and thank those who have taken the time to express their opinion on this subject. Please feel free to continue to do so by responding here or my contacting me privately at matthew@defectiveyeti.com .

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