Darth Poppins, here we come…

Last year, on a whim, I backed the Rainsaber on Kickstarter:

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPK1Dzc3tYY

Then, while waiting through the inevitable Kickstarter Project delivery delay, we watched Mary Poppins Returns — a movie that is sort of ok, but Emily Blunt ain’t Julie Andrews, sorry.

Anyway, while watching the movie, we riffed around the title, and ended up saying that it being the second movie, it should’ve been called „Mary Poppins Strikes Back“. And then I mentioned off-handedly that we’re getting a lightsaber umbrella kinda soon…

Your parents lied to you… I am your nanny!

Darth Poppins

So, with Nordcon coming up in June, and the saber hopefully arriving before that, we’re working on a Darth Poppins Cosplay. It’ll revolve around the umbrella, and of course it’ll need the correct pommel.

Thankfully, Ben was game and sent me the 3D file for the pommel cap:

And with some 3D builder magic, this emerged from my printer:

Spit Spot, this death star won’t built itself you know!

The parrot head was a bit more challenging though. The first try came out WAY too big:

(yes, that is 14cm width. Basically impossible to hold comfortably.)

I tinkered a bit more, and now got it down to a comfortable size, it just needs painting and, of course, the actual saber. In the meantime, the girlfriend needs to do the sewing for the actual costume, but that’s not my department anymore.. :D

Use the force, choke them, the lads.
choke them, choke them, choke them, the lads.

Small-scale pods as moderation advantage

Yesterday, I had a lengthy discussion with a proponent of big centralised social media platforms. Not because they have a particular love for big companies, but because moderation is actually one of these issues that are hard to do right.

The numbers I could find say that about 20% of all content posted in social media needs to get removed from moderation. Most of this is probably automated spam and similar, but there is also a fair amount of graphic violence, outright porn and, because humans are terrible, abuse and hate.

Moderators who have to sift through all this have the worst life, not few of them have to get counseling after a while.

So if you do moderation, you have to have the infrastructure in place to deal with large volume of content, the wellbeing of your staff, all the hassle of dealing with complaints about your moderation plus whatever regulatory requirements are needed.

Typically, this calls for a large scale operation.

Now, one of the reasons this happens is because people behave differently in a large-scale corporate environment than within their smaller circle of friends and acquaintances. If your social media pod is run by someone closer to you, you tend not to shit the bed so to speak. Because you know that your behaviour will possibly reflect poorly on your host.

If you federate the system, good moderation will still be needed, but it is entirely possible that one won’t have to deal with that many bad things, especially if there is an option to cut off whole pods from the federation if they behave too badly.

Of course, that last bit needs to be very carefully tuned, lest it results in censorship.

Social Media, from a persons perspective

I do love participating in social media. It was around 1994 when MiGri introduced me to the world of BBSes, the Fido net and everything online. To be honest, I haven’t regretted a single thing from that.

At some point, I ran my own BBS, I joined Usenet, installed AOL and CompuServe until was I actually able to get a „real“ dialup account at Hamburg University, and spent countless nights on IRC and online RPGs.

The upside of all this was always the same: Technology connected me to new topics and interesting people. That is what the Internet and especially Social Media is for me: A tool to get me introduced to new things and people.

Of course, I also want to use technology to stay in contact with them, but once I am connected to someone, life will..  find a way. Really, staying connected to someone is not what I need a particular tool for. If all fails, I’ll have their email address or a phone number.

But having conversations in a place that ensures that new voices will join that conversation regularly, especially new voices that are somehow still vetted to not be too obnoxious or disrupting, that is the true magic of the internet.

And for a good while, Google+ was the place that did that for me. I don’t know quite how this worked, but it did — whenever an interesting conversation happened, new faces popped up, and a click link on their profile let me know if they were also interesting.

(I realize I’m writing this in the past tense, even though the system will stay online for another 10 months from now. Well, write for the future, they say.)

The fact that the system never pretended to join „friends“ with each other, and adding someone to their circle was a decidedly one-way action, ensured that your circle of acquaintances grew steadily. One could always decide to publish certain posts to only certain circles, but if you posted public, it was just that — a way to engage with a wide net of possibly unknown people.

At the same time, it was possible to keep a semblance of control over who appeared within your own comments. You could moderate the comments or even ban too obnoxious persons from your interactions.

And now the hunt is on, to find a similar platform that does the same for me and my peeps. And as we learned, we are looking for a very specific feature set:

  • The basics:
    • Safety (don’t open me to lawsuits, don’t put me in danger of malware or bad people)
    • privacy (don’t expose my data without my consent)
    • it should just work“
  • The socials
    • built for serendipity, so focus on public or at least semi-public interactions
    • be abuse-aware: Allow moderation, banning and the like.
  • The nitty-gritty
    • don’t have a complicated backend that I need to learn to post or moderate
    • discussions attached to a post are good, nay, mandatory
    • threaded discussions are even better
    • emphasise on text. It can be rich-text, it can involve pictures and videos, but text is still where discussions happen.
  • The open
    • don’t be a closed silo
    • don’t belong to a single company
    • ideally, be federated and allow for moving between instances

So far, none of the systems I know ticks all the boxes though…

Playing at an open table

Harald runs his bi-weekly game in a slightly unusual fashion. It is an open table where he runs for whoever shows up. That in itself isn’t that unusual and the West Marshes style of running a campaign is based on a similar foundation.

The difference is that he treats the constant exchange of players and characters as a single continuous group. That means that if last week Clara, River and Amy break into the Holy Temple of Om, and this week Clara, Rose and Jack turn up at the game, the game starts with all three having just broken into the temple and are now facing the Dire Weresheep Guards.

But what about River and Amy?“ you ask. „And where did Rose and Jack suddenly turn up from?“

And to this, Haralds game group will answer: „What? uh.. we don’t care!“

The solution is that we treat this as just a cutting mistake in a B‑Movie. As long as the plot continues and is overall kept intact, we’re fine. So, we ended last week entering the temple and this week starts with the first confrontation inside the temple. Everything is fine. As long as no one draws attention to the fact that there are suddenly swapped-out characters, no one really notices.

The other main reason this works is what kind of game we play at this table: There is no prepared epic campaign where we follow a carefully crafted set of settings and obstacles. Instead, Harald throws us into any one of the dozens of adventure modules he has collected over time and watches our characters try to cope with them, even if they are widely out of our level.

Then he takes whatever exit we take and uses it to throw us right into the next adventure. Example: When we decided to open a portal to escape the Servants of the Cinder Queen, that portal opened to the Broodmother Skyfortress. After having explored the fortress and finally managed to make it sort-of-land, we had to blindly jump from the anchor chain found ourselves on top of a structure on the Misty Isles of the Elk.

At the game table, none of this felt out of place. Harald cleverly chose the Cthonic Codex and a very rules-light interpretation of the Adventure Fantasy Game as the base setting, and it works surprisingly well as scaffolding to hold up and connect all the different and slightly weird set-pieces we visit. Things do not get boring, but stay mostly consistent, as Harald does keep track of when we change things in places or set something in motion that might have a world-changing effect later on.

No, this isn’t something to play if you want to watch your character with their three friends evolve over 20 levels and find out how they save the kingdom. But if you want to have regular fun that still connects to a story worth re-telling, this approach is worth a try.