Friday, January 27, 2006


Sweet Bondage

posted by barsoomcore

The romantic comedy is proving broader than one might have suspected a few years ago. Shaun of the Dead mixed it with Romero horror, but earlier than that Steve Shainberg made what must be the first dom/sub romantic comedy, Secretary.

Well, I'm sure it's actually NOT the first dom/sub romantic comedy, and that doesn't even include His Girl Friday. My knowledge of cinema is insufficiently encyclopedic for me to make that claim, and I'm pretty lazy, so I'm not going to look it up.

Secretary is the first explicitly dom/sub romantic comedy I've seen, at any rate. But it does have all the requisite elements of a romantic comedy: the shy uncertain girl trying to make her way in the world, the lonely fellow who just needs someone to understand him, the running about in a wedding dress and at last the dimpled certainty that these two will make it just fine, thank you very much. And like any romantic comedy, this is a story about a woman. Oh, the man's important, but mainly in terms of providing a suitable challenge against which the woman can measure herself. The more self-sufficient, arrogant and domineering he is, the better: he'll be all the more humbled as she inevitably makes him understand that he is incomplete without her.

This isn't an original idea with me. I took it from Dave Pollard who called romance novels subversive literature because they offer success models for women, stories of female power in which they overcome not the elements or hostile soldiers, but the male resistance to feminine authority.

And so Secretary, which even by its title reveals something of its intentions. What is more subservient, more submissive, than the secretary? The poster says it all: seamed stockings, bent right over, ass in the air. This is a story about a servant.

And just by that very statement, makes a reversal of authority. This is not a story about the boss: in this story, the most important person is the inferior. The submissive is dominant. In this story, we are concerned with life for the lower. Which tells us that the rules of our world are always reversible, always contain their own negation (hi, Paul de Man, haven't seen you around here much) and that the submissive is actually the dominant, at all times. The very fact that the submissive allows the dominant to call the shots suggests that the roles are reversed.

Of course, once they reverse, the dom is now the sub and hey, guess what. They reverse again.

Secretary has a lot of fun with this constant reversal of position, with this endless game of top-and-bottom. Who's really in charge here? Who's been trained? Who's been satisfied?

Rather like My Fair Lady (it's self-referential day) celebrates not some end state but rather the continuation of the struggle, Secretary posits marriage as an agreement between two individuals to combine their lives into a unified whole. Not a homogeneous whole, not a whole without cracks and stresses and tensions and even inequalities, but a unified whole, something that becomes greater than what either of them can produce on their own.

It can only be brought into being through total commitment, first on her part as she plants herself in his office, but then at last on his part as he breaks down the dominant role and serves her, bathing her in worshipful tenderness. He gets the final narration, but the smile on her face as she plants the cockroach says it all: love is different things to different folks.


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Thursday, January 19, 2006


Tormenting Telemarketers

posted by barsoomcore

This works GREAT! It's my new favourite toy:

The Telemarketing Counter-Script
(PDF download)

No seriously, it works great. It's a script of questions for you to ask telemarketers when they call.

"How long have you been in the telemarketing business?"

"What's your name? Could you spell that for me please?"

"Could you give me your phone number in case I have to call you later?"

I used it on a political survey-person the other night and it was tons of fun. She only made it as far as "Do you live in Vancouver, too?" before telling me (rather stiffly) that she was sorry to have troubled me and hoped I had a nice day.

Now I look forward to telemarketers! What fun!



Battle On High!

posted by barsoomcore

At last the FREE Adventure for INFINITE: Epic Modern is available!

Battle On High is fresh off the digital press and ready for perusal!

Finally. That one took a while. But next up we have Fantasy Incorporated, a cynical, but hilarious view of what happens when Big Business meets High Fantasy. Stay tuned!

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006


The Teenage Brain That Wouldn't Die From 10,000 Fathoms From Outer Space

posted by barsoomcore

One of my favourite purchases of recent weeks is a three-disc DVD set of "Sci-Fi Flicks": non-classic 1950's drive-in "B" quickies with titles like The Brain That Wouldn't Die or Teenagers From Outer Space.

They're not as bad as I feared they might be, actually. "Amateurish" is a better word to describe them than "bad". The ideas are not bad (for idiot 50's science fiction -- there's a lot of "radiation causes fearsome mutants" and "my serum restores life to dead tissue" here), and the stories move along at a great clip, with a minimum of pointless "filler", which was what I was really worried about.

The big problem with cheapo movies made by hacks isn't that they look terrible, or have crappy acting, or lame special effects. It's that they're often dull and plodding and lack any story tension -- nobody's trying to do anything, and they're full of scenes where people stand around saying things without advancing the story. They're tedious.

Nobody could accuse The Brain That Wouldn't Die of tedium. It moves so fast you actually have to pay attention (I should send a screener to Michael Bay). I'll offer a quick plot summary since I'm sure most of my readers (all four of you) aren't familiar with it.

We're introduced to a cheery family gathering: Surgeon Dad assisted by Surgeon Son while Girlfriend Nurse mops brows and supplies forceps. Surgeon Dad fails to keep the patient alive, at which point Surgeon Son overrules Father's objections and steps forward to administer his "unconventional" treatment.

The patient recovers, but Surgeon Dad admonishes Surgeon Son for tampering with forces beyond man's ken. Dr. Frankenstein (I mean, Surgeon Son), scoffs, and he and Girlfriend Nurse head up to his secret hideaway.

Tragedy ensues, and Surgeon Son reveals hitherto unsuspected moral laxity as he seeks to restore his beloved to life. She lingers on as a decapitated head with ill-defined powers of mental communication, and while Surgeon Son is gallivanting about with catfighting strippers, looking for a suitable "transplant" for Girlfriend Nurse, her desire for revenge slowly bakes in the slow-roasted flavour.

Yes, Surgeon Son intends to perform an "entire body" transplant. If that doesn't work for you, you'll probably want to sit this one out.

Anyway, far from displaying gratitude, Girlfriend Nurse becomes an implacable engine of revenge. As much as a decapitated head sitting in an cake pan is capable of being, at any rate. She enlists the help of Savage Beast Chained Behind Solid Door and her revenge is savage indeed. And graphic -- there's plenty of gore spilled when Resentful Assistant has his arm pulled off (it's not super-convincing as you can clearly tell he's just got his arm tucked under his coat, but the blood is liberally spent and there's fun stump-painting on the walls).

It all ends in flames and cackling laughter, of course.

The Brain That Wouldn't Die is about as far from A Zed and Two Noughts as a film can be. There's not much here other than the story -- the performances are, to be kind, acceptable (the catfighting strippers were especially convincing), the design and cinematography lack much oomph, and the dialogue is without memorability. But the story, now, the story is what we're watching for. It roars along nice and speedy-like, throwing plot twists at you without losing track of the central tension: the rising horror of that decapitated head (both its situation and its fiendish reaction). This is a campfire tale of a movie; stripped-down, unpolished and not only lacking in but disdainful of subtlety.

Stephen King's lovely book Danse Macabre offers as its primary thesis that horror is about identifying and casting out the "mutant". We watch horror films to participate vicariously in Shirley Jackson-esque rituals of defilement and cleansing. To confront that which is different and excise it from our world.

The Brain That Wouldn't Die is obviously a Frankenstein story: egotistical doctor over-reaches the limits of man's authority and is punished thereby. The mutant here is the decapitated head, an abomination that flaunts God's laws by which man is meant to live. Of course we're sympathetic to the plight of Girlfried Nurse Transformed Into Hideous Undead Thing; she didn't ask to have this done to her and pleads with Surgeon Son to let her die as she obviously is meant to. He refuses, and so she undergoes another transformation: into the instrument of divine punishment. The mutant is punished less than the "normal" who creates it. Who betrays the status quo by nurturing, tolerating the mutant.

King notes that the horror movie is by its very nature deeply, reactionarily, conservative. The message of horror is one of intolerance, conformity and judgement. That which does not conform must be destroyed. But I think there's a another, maybe deeper reading; what REALLY needs punishing isn't the mutant but those who tolerate its existence. The conservatism of the horror film runs even deeper than it at first appears, for not only is physical imperfection not to be tolerated, but neither is even the slightest relaxing of moral purity.

The foolish authorities who refuse to take the kids seriously about the UFOs, the lustful couple who scoff at reports of a madman running about, the kindly old nearsighted lady who suggests the ravening alien come in for tea: these are the true victims and their deaths are inevitable in ANY horror film. From Friday the 13th to Vampyr to Night of the Living Dead. With a brief, fond stop at The Brain That Wouldn't Die.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Mini-Game Future: Thoughts Part One

posted by barsoomcore

So I'm struggling these days to finish up the FREE adventure supplement for Infinite: Epic Modern, which is fun to write, but a bit of a pain because, well, high-level d20 character generation is a huge pain. Every time the PCs need to run into somebody who can challenge them it means taking a little while.

Though I have to say RPGObjects' Modern Character Generator is awesomely cool. But then pretty much everything they do is cool.

There's been some interesting discussion going on over at ENWorld about how D&D and tabletop role-playing in general is being affected by the mammoth growth of MMORPG's like World of Warcraft. The concern is that these new generation of video games will impact TRPG (tabletop RPGs) growth by providing an experience that gives more of the "fun" parts of role-playing (cool locations and stuff, NPC interaction and killing things/taking stuff) with less of the "not fun" parts (math).

Which got me thinking about ways to reduce the "not fun" part of tabletop gaming (which I vastly prefer to video gaming, but because a lot of the stuff that's "not fun" for most people is "fun" for me -- like figuring out rules, generating characters, coming up with whole new rules and, well, generally, math. Coming up with the mechanics behind Hot Pursuit is some of the most fun I've had with my brain in a long time. Likewise the Panache mechanic in Gun-Fu: Balletic Ballistics. I LIKE doing that stuff, but I recognize that almost nobody I know does likewise (hi Chris).

Which reminded of the vision I had when I originally started EN Mini-Games: to create tools that allowed DMs to hold a fun afternoon of gaming, something new and entertaining, without having to do very much work beforehand. I wanted to put out products that a DM could buy Saturday morning and have friends over to play Saturday afternoon, confident that there'd be a couple of new funky mechanics to make things interesting, a fun adventure to play through and generally all the components of a good game, just awaiting a reasonable DM and a bunch of enthusiastic players.

I'm not sure the existing passel of products succeed in meeting that goal. The games themselves are great, and the adventures have all been good, but there's still a couple of things that a DM (and the players) would have to do in order to play that probably fall into the "not fun for people who aren't Corey" category.

First up is character generation. This has become especially clear working on Infinite. For me, character generation is tons of fun. Poking at alternatives, thinking up combinations, balancing numbers, all that stuff is a joy to me. Not so much for others, all the time. So coming soon the mini-games I produce will include a set of pre-generated PCs on fully-developed character sheets, ready to be handed out to players at the start of the game session.

We'll continue creating free adventures to go with the games, though they will probably be included in the game product itself so that just the one product provides everything the DM needs. I'm thinking of other ideas like quick-reference charts for new rules, handouts and other good stuff.

Watch this space.


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