Monday, May 31, 2021

On the Razor's Edge Between Invincibility and Vulnerability Lies the Breathtaking Strength of Human Perseverance

As May draws to a close, I'm finding myself productive but dogged by a general malaise.  

All things considered, I should be happy, because there's a lot to be happy about and a lot to look forward to.  For example, I recently binged the show Invincible and absolutely LOVED it.  (It's not going to take over Umbrella Academy as my dysfunctional superhero show of choice, but it holds its own.)  I ended up buying all of the comics, which is over 3,000 pages (or, if you just want to measure compendium thickness, about six inches).

In fact I ended up writing a review I'm pretty proud of.  

Read my review of Invincible here!

I've been keeping up with my writing, mostly.  It's a hodge-podge of passion projects, e-mails with writing partners, reviews for the GGG website, and, of course, the occasional obligatory press release.

Like this one about Netflix's upcoming Geeked Week.

Writing aside, now that I'm fully vaccinated, my life is opening up again, allowing me to socialize with other vaccinated friends.  I reconnected with Benedetta from my journalism program, for example, and went to Kevin's birthday pool party.  I went with Jonny out to Johnny's bar (although, we sat on the patio; we're still too shy to actually eat indoors).  

I even went to Vegas with Chris and Tevin from the Dragon and Meeple.  While I was there, I visited Ekho and Ken, who I haven't seen in three years, since they moved to Nevada, and I'm eagerly looking forward to visiting them a second time before the year's end.

Since my birthday fell on Saturday and because I share that birthday with Tony Stark, naturally, I insisted on going to Marvel's STATION, which is located inside of the Treasure Island casino.  I even remembered to take pictures this time!  Here's a select few:

(Captain America's bike from Avengers: Age of Ultron.)

(Hawkeye, indisputably the best Avenger.)

So what's with this grey sense of dread looming over me?  I mean, I look happy in all of those photos.

I guess part of it is the awareness that what happened with my friend a few weeks ago has probably effectively terminated our 10-year friendship.  I'm really not sure how to come back from it.  Because she doesn't want to get vaccinated, I don't want to physically be around her.  More importantly, on an emotional and psychological level, her reaction implied a level of personal disrespect I really can't abide.  I've been trying to prune my friends down to only the best, which usually only means removing people from social media when their posts bother me.  But this is a real friendship and having it end so abruptly and cruelly has really done a number on me.

Aside from that I've felt a little overwhelmed with the house, because Calvin is fully mobile and so long as he is awake, I really can't get any work done.  

This means I only have about three hours in the course of the day to manage chores and writing.  It's cutting into my writing productivity severely and that's causing me a great deal of anxiety, since usually, I lean hard on my personal sense of fulfillment from creative work to put me in a good frame of mind.

I'm trying to balance out a lot of little things (personal finances, health, house management) and all those little things have left me wrung out.  (If only there were a metaphor for this, maybe one involving, I don't know, camels, and straw?)

(Oh, look, an Invincible meme.)

The anxiety from work is temporary, of course, because Calvin won't be a toddler forever.  But the disruption to a close friend could be, and it's also given me a deep sense of distrust toward all of my other friends, and doubt about what things I can rely on in my life.

I think this is one of those "the only way past is through" kind of situations, but I've always found those to be the most frustrating because I'm naturally very controlling in most aspects of my life and want to feel like I have power over future outcomes.  Alas, if there's anything 2020 taught us, it's that we're a lot less in control than we think we are.  And that the best way to come to terms with that isn't trying to forcibly wrest control from the universe but to come to terms with the things we can't change and make peace with them.

So, I'm trying to focus on the things I can control and let go of the rest, and, if I can't trust the world, to trust in my own ability to respond with grace to whatever it throws at me.

Friday, May 14, 2021

How Movements Gain Traction

Today's post is the usual article dump.  (Links at the bottom of this post!)

One thing I'd like to emphasize, though, is that these two articles were pretty difficult to write.

One is about the history of Star Wars Day (aka, "May the Fourth Be With You"), a fan holiday that exploded in popularity and led to an actual, official holiday in the span of only a few decades, and the other is about a new cryptocurrency.  Now, I'm not a big fan of Star Wars (I've only seen the six "main" movies and none of the shows or new movies), and I'm also not very polished on what crypto is or how it works.

But that's not why it was hard to write these articles.  I did my research.  In fact, I put a lot of effort into these articles because of my lack of knowledge and interest for the subjects.  The result was, in my opinion, a couple of solid pieces about recently popular movements that have pretty fascinating backstories.

The reason it was hard for me to sit down and get it done was because one of my closest friends got radicalized into a totally unrecognizable person, and it's put me into a very bleak mood.  The last few weeks have had a gloomy shadow of depression over them that's made nearly every part of my life into a chore, even the parts I usually enjoy, like writing.

I'll make a long story short:

The friend in question (whose name I won't give on my blog) has been one of my best friends for about ten years and was in my wedding party.  She is like family and I love her.

I've been posting lots of pro-vaccination memes to my Facebook page, mostly because I just got my second shot and I'm excited about it.  (As of this post, I am pfully vaccinated.  That's a little vaccine pun for you.)

Anyways, out of nowhere, (or perhaps in response to all of my Facebook memes), my friend sent me and my husband an e-mail with a link to a full-length film called "Pushback: The Day The World Stood Together" with the note "All I ask is that you view it to get the other side [sic] view."

You can pretty much skip to any part of the film and find something to be offended by.  It's chock-full of anti-vaxx rhetoric founded on bad-faith arguments, misrepresentation, science denial, fear-mongering, and outright lies. The central thesis seems to be that "the government is trying to control us."  But it's also full of contradictions.  It's what I call a "scattershot" conspiracy, the kind where you can pick and choose what parts you like: maybe the pandemic is manufactured or was planned, or maybe it doesn't exist at all; maybe the vaccine was rushed or doesn't work or does work but with "side effects."  It's inconsistent fear-mongering designed to rope in the largest number of people possible.  Like a horoscope, it uses vague language to appeal to a large demographic who, if they are already inclined to believe it, can find a part to latch on to (and ignore the rest).

Adding insult to injury, both me and my partner are microbiologists, whereas our friend is in the entertainment industry, meaning she's potentially a super-spreader.

After she sent me this, I waited a few hours, then sent her back a very short and blunt e-mail telling her that it was dangerous propaganda, that it was harmful to vulnerable populations, that I personally was horrified by what I saw, and that I didn't think it was "another side" or a "difference of opinion" because it was outright science denial. I told her that, to me, science denial, like racism, is absolutely indefensible. It's a "hard limit." I can't abide it.

Her response was to delete me from her social media entirely and then e-mailed my partner (not me) that it had been nice knowing us

My partner e-mailed her back saying that, whatever I said that upset her, we're two separate people, so he would like if she didn't treat us as a single entity. Furthermore, he doesn't understand why she's severing such a close friendship without even picking up the phone to see if it can be salvaged. She replied back saying "Toni's mind is made up."

Fun fact about her using the feminized version of my name: it isn't even my birth name.  About a month ago I posted on Facebook that I'm a big enough person to admit that seeing my name misspelled as the feminine version is one of my absolute biggest pet peeves (and, frankly, insecurities), and that I take it very personally, especially on social media, where you can see how my name is spelled.

This was not a typo. She did it on purpose to be petty and hurtful.

She has never, ever been cruel to me.

My partner asked her several times if she would be willing to meet him in the park for coffee or something to try to talk things over, especially regarding this documentary.

Her response was, "On May 15th I'm going to a Pushback rally in Denver."

Not sure what she's pushing back again since, at the time I'm writing this, Los Angeles has opened back up and mask restrictions are being lifted in response to everyone getting vaccinated because it's the ethically correct thing to do.

She did eventually send me an e-mail stating her concerns over FDA approval and the idea that the vaccine is still being "tested."  I asked where she gets her news and she avoided answering, so I think her conspiracy-minded thinking goes deeper than she's willing to admit.  

"People have died from the vaccine," she stated.  Which is technically the truth, in the same way that people die from shark attacks and hang-gliding accidents, but she's one of those "I refuse to live my life in fear" folks and I feel like she should recognize that obviously, Covid has a MUCH higher death toll and long-term side effect issues than the vaccine does.

But it's not really about the vaccine.  It's about some personal sense of control and obstinate self-interest.  After all, if it were only about medical concerns, she could be convinced by talking to her two microbiologist friends.  If it were only about "side effects" she never would have made it personal.

I was hurt by her passive-aggressive remark and it's not for the reason she thinks.  It's not because I'm that upset that she misspelled my name.  It's that she did it out of anger, to hurt me.  That has nothing to do with the vaccine.

Anyway, I'm trying to keep my chin up and focus on the things in my life within my control.  

And so, to that end, here are two articles I wrote recently:

 The History of Star Wars Day

Chain Cryptocurrency: Integrating Crypto with Gaming

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Diversity in Board Games

This article was originally published by the Grand Geek Gathering on April 28th, 2021.

Board games have a rich culture, and one of the most positive aspects of a board game is that it has never been traditionally gendered.  While many toys and games are marketed as being “for girls” or “for boys,” board games have always staunchly occupied the “for everyone” category, branding themselves as a family activity.

Some might think that board games would gone out of vogue with the rise of the Internet, but the exact opposite is true.  Since the 1990s, board games have entered a “Golden Age” of popularity, with the Internet allowing gaming enthusiasts to find new games and engage with the board game community through online hubs such as

What’s more, the Internet has made it so that games can be crowd-funded and play-tested, meaning that more indie games have a shot at publication.  Once published, awards shine the spotlight on games that might not have previously gotten as much recognition, and since the advent of the Internet, board gaming awards have seen a huge growth in community engagement, especially internationally.

With all this growth, there’s a pretty big blind spot in board games, and that’s in its diversity.  Gaming designers tend to be overwhelmingly white and male.  An article by Tanya Pobuda highlights this by pointing to the 2018 BGG list of 200 Top Board Games.  Of 200 games, 193 had a male designer; this translates to 96.5% of games.

This brings me to Elizabeth Hargrave.  The name is probably familiar to you if you’re a board game geek, because she’s the designer of the hit engine-building game Wingspan.  Hailed as beautifully rendered, smooth strategy game, Wingspan won no less than 8 of the 16 categories in the Golden Geek Awards (hosted by the BGG), and it was the first game to win both the Kennerspiel des Jahres (basically, the Oscars of board games) and Deutscher Spielepreis (an award based on public voting) since 2012.  It got rave reviews, and it shone a spotlight on a woman designer who had made, arguably, a massively popular “feminine” game, one that features pasted-colored pieces, a bucolic game board, and cards centered around the natural beauty of birds.

Elizabeth Hargrave isn’t a one-hit wonder; she’s published other card games that are just as fanciful, including one of my personal favorites, Tussie-Mussie, a game that involves trading and collecting cards with flowers on them.

Wingspan wasn’t just a good game.  It was a reminder that games are fundamentally ungendered, and that seemingly “feminine” board games are not to be overlooked, as, ultimately, the strategy and gameplay of a board games can be enjoyed by all, regardless of the branding.

Incidentally, Elizabeth Hargrave is not a singularity.  In fact, women have been designing and publishing board games for a long time.  Candy Land was created by Eleanor Abbot in 1948, and Elizabeth “Lizzie” Philips designed The Landlord’s Game in 1905.  You’ve definitely played both, though you may not realize it, because although The Landlord’s Game was patented, Charles Darrow stole it and rebranded it as Monopoly in 1935, selling it to the Parker Brothers for millions in royalties.  (Lizzie did end up getting a single payment of $500 from the Parker Brothers.)

I have a lot of friends who are board game fanatics, and many of them expressed enthusiastic surprise at Elizabeth Hargrave’s success.  One of them said to me he was glad that she was getting noticed, since “there are so few women designing boardgames.”

It turns out this sentiment is both common and completely wrong.  In fact, it’s so common and so wrong that Elizabeth Hargrave herself ended up compiling a list of over 200 active, published boardgames designers who are women (or non-binary), along with a guide to promote diversity within the gaming community.  She went on to publish a list titled “Black Voices in Board Gaming,” which began as a Twitter thread but is now compiled on her website for easy viewing.

If you’re a fan of board games, then I encourage you to give Elizabeth Hargrave’s list a look.  Diversity within the community of game designers lends itself to diversity within the available library of board games; The broader the representation among designers, the broader the types of games we’ll see published and played.  There’s still work to be done, but we’re getting there.  And arguably, the increase in diversity among game designers is one of the unsung contributing factors to the board game “Golden Age” in which we find ourselves.