Announcing Games Collector, a tabletop game management plugin for WordPress

I’ve been quietly building something under the radar for a couple weeks. It’s been really just a passion project that came out of a conversation after the holidays.

Basically, we own a lot of games. Blame Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop for some of it, but, really, we’re frequently finding excuses to get new games. In fact, getting a new game for the family has become an annual tradition. We have so many games that it’s sometimes hard for other people to keep track of what we have and what we don’t have. And that’s where the nugget of an idea for a plugin for WordPress came in.

It started off as just a way to list the games that we own. But as I was thinking of ways to display the games, I started thinking about the user experience a bit more. Lists aren’t fun, but you know what is fun? Stuff that moves around. So, I decided to integrate Isotope.js to sort the games by different filters. Isotope animates the transition, so you’ll see games disappear and reappear and there’s lots of different things you can sort by.

As I was working with these filters I thought “wouldn’t it be cool if you could use the game list as a way to get ideas about what games to play?” What game to play depends on the audience, right? So, I added a “difficulty” dropdown that you can use to determine how hard the game is to learn. The range goes from Easy to Hard Core. What game you suggest also depends on how many people are playing, so there’s also a dropdown for number of players. So if you have a group of 4 hard core gamers, you can get a list of games that would be good for that group, and for that many players. Whereas, if you have a group of 7 or 8 casual gamers, you can get a list of games that are more laid back and are good for larger groups.

How does it work? Well you can take a look right here on my blog: Games. It uses a shortcode which you are probably familiar with if you’ve used WordPress for a while. There’s some notes on setting it up on the GitHub page. Here’s a screenshot of the back-end.

If you love games as much as me and you use WordPress, download the plugin and let me know what you think. I’m not planning on releasing it on WordPress.org any time soon because I don’t want to deal with the support forums and because it’s written for PHP 5.6 or higher (which is greater than the minimum requirement for WordPress), but if you have questions or feature requests, you can reach out on GitHub.

This is just the first iteration. I’ve got some ideas about how to extend the plugin moving forward, including integrating the WordPress REST API so the game data could be used outside of WordPress, in an app, for example. The mobile experience isn’t great, and I’d love to eventually build a way to manage and view your game list in a dedicated app on your phone.

Anyway, this is a cool little thing that I’ve been working on and excited to share. Again, download it and let me know what you think!

What we can learn from Canada and Vash the Stampede

This is how you make your country great:

For that matter, replace “country” with any word that represents a community. Because the way you make any kind of community better is with love, not hate.

Fighting hate with hate only creates more hate. The way you fight hate is with love and acceptance. With understanding and empathy. You can’t fight hate with bigotry, isolationism, divisiveness, that only fosters more hate, more bigotry, isolationism. More divisiveness.

Looking at pictures of Justin Trudeau welcoming refugees from Syria and his “Welcome to Canada” response the other day to Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and watching him tear up when speaking with a Syrian refugee’s experience entering Canada just makes me think about how that’s what we should be doing. This is what freedom looks like.

Because it’s not about keeping all the good stuff to ourselves and a few of our friends, it’s about welcoming strangers in and letting them share in that good stuff, too. Justin Trudeau gets that. Barack Obama gets that. This country used to get that, too. That’s one of the fundamental principles it was founded upon.

I recently rewatched Trigun with my partner and here’s why Trigun is a topical anime series for what’s going on right now that if you’re unfamiliar with it, you should watch it, like, today. You can find the entire series on YouTube (English dubbed) on Funimation’s channel, but it’s worth owning.

Trigun takes place in a dystopian future that resembles the wild west. Civilization has fallen apart, and people are struggling for survival in a harsh, desert landscape with little access to water or resources and there’s no real law or government. The story centers around a gunslinger, Vash the Stampede, who refuses to take anyone’s life, at great personal risk. He frequently sacrifices himself, both physically but also emotionally, at times publicly humiliating himself if it means saving the lives of others.

Throughout the series, he’s constantly told “I don’t understand you, why do you do these things?” His mantra seems contradictory for a legendary gunman: “love and peace.” He uses his skills as a gunslinger to change the trajectory of bullets, to knock a rival gunman’s weapon just off course, he uses his incredible speed to usher people out of harm’s way. He does this because he believes that no one should have to suffer, even those who cause harm and terrorize others. His love is indiscriminate.

There’s so much television that is about hate and fear. But what is television but an escape, a way to give your brain a break from what’s happening in the real world? Why escape the hate and fear outside your door with more hate and fear? Why not fill your head with the fanciful notion that everyone is an inherently good person if you let them?

I struggle with the idea of “love and peace.” I sometimes think that, at a certain point, you need to fight back, right? There are a lot of things I have yet to learn from Vash, but being more Vash-like is definitely something I aspire to. It’s important, now more than ever, to remember Vash when we are being faced with adversity and fear and terror and hate. When we are being told to fear these people over here because they are too dangerous to enter our country, it’s important to remember that we are those people. Our histories are not separate, they are the same. We are each and every one of them. We are the ones causing terror and the ones being terrorized. The sooner we open our doors and welcome everyone in, regardless of whatever, the sooner we can show others that there is something better and worth more than fighting.

Love and peace.

Last minute change of RPM plans

In true RPM fashion, I’ve changed my mind re: plans for RPM album. It’s not going to be all about Trump.

While the thought process going into it is more personal/intimate, what I can say is why I’ve decided to switch gears.

In talking with e about the project — because she’s started painting and I wanted to use her art for the album — we started talking about art that challenges the artist and why many male artists (of various forms), in particular, use pain and suffering and misery as inspirations for their art. In music, you can hear it in Trent Reznor (especially early NIN but pretty much everything he’s ever done, ever), Kurt Cobain, I mean the list goes on. Pretty much the entirety of “alternative” music is some dude bitching about how everything is horrible. Isn’t the world bad enough that we don’t need to add more misery and suffering into it through art?

I’m no different. For a long time, I believed that a) all art was created through suffering and b) the only things I had to say were things that came from my own personal angst. I used to channel and hone the worst possible feelings in order to produce music. I would actually make myself unhappy in order to channel that negative energy into art.

Since then, I’ve learned that art (even, gasp, good art) can be made from emotions that are not harmful/painful. For me this is much more of a challenge having believed the other thing for so long.

So, how does this relate back to RPM? Well, the original concept was basically more of the same. It’s easy to get angry about Trump and make art from a place of anger and resistance. But that’s not challenging anything and that’s not changing anything. That’s Trent Reznor’s entire career. Maybe the topic for him has gone to “she dumped me and I’m unhappy” to “the world is shit and I’m really angry about it”, but the basic point is the same “life is shit, I suck, I’m going to go drown my sorrows in some good old fashioned substance abuse”.

We also talked about doing a collaborative project where we’re basically taking the same source/topic/emotion and creating art based out of it. In talking, this felt like a much more exciting project than bitching (musically) about Trump, so I’m much more interested and excited about this idea.

RPM 2017

I’m in it. I’ve committed to doing RPM again this year. It’s been a couple years since I’ve done RPM which basically means it’s been a couple years since I’ve done any music at all and I can’t handle it, anymore. I need to do something.

I hadn’t decided what I was going to do for this year’s RPM, but it’s the 10th year I’ve been a member (though not my 10th RPM — I’ve skipped a couple years), so I wanted to do something special. Also, having a theme has always made my RPM albums better (I think) (see: The Signal and Wasp). I think I’ve decided.

February comes after January, as you know, and January 20th we will be inaugurating into the White House possibly the most terrifying man who has ever held the position of President. This is inescapable. This is fact. It is not some nightmare we are collectively living in. To say that the world will be a less safe place with him running America is an understatement — he’s not even in office and it’s already unsafe for many American citizens.

It seems fitting, then, that as a punk rocker, as a musician, and as we are making albums in the first month of Donald Trump’s presidency, that my RPM 2017 album be about this political cycle, somehow. So here’s my idea:

  1. Every day I sit down to work on a new song, I start by doing a Google search for Trump.
  2. The title of the song comes from the headline of the article (but removes the word Trump. Doing a search today gives me “CNN/ORC Poll: Confidence drops in Trump transition”, so that song title might be “Confidence Drops”).
  3. The song mood/theme is built around the topic/title.
  4. The article body becomes the basis for found poetry. Fragments of sentences/paragraphs become lines and verses for spoken word. (I’m not going to attempt to be so ambitious as to commit to singing, though it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility.)

I have a feeling this will be a very dark album. Just the hypothetical first song title gives me shivers.

With low expectations, you create your own dismal reality

I’m reading an article in December’s WIRED (look at that, 2017 Goals 👀 ) about the three days in a row last summer where there were 3 fatal shootings in a span of 72 hours, each of them livestreamed via social media. During the protests following the first two, police approached the protesters in riot gear. There is a quote from a police officer that I wanted to respond to:

If something happens in Baton Rouge and Minnesota, millions of people are finding out about it instantaneously with the video going out. You get a reaction much quicker. With that mob-type mentality — we want to do something — sometimes it’s to do some harm to those in law enforcement. We become a target again and again and again.

Here’s the thing, Frederick Frazier, Vice president of the Dallas Police Association, what you expect to happen shapes the outcome of what actually happens. If you send out an officer in a SWAT uniform to confront a crowdfull of angry protestors, you better believe they are going to react strongly to that. They are going to feel like they are being attacked. If you send out an officer in plain clothes or a regular uniform, who never touches his weapon, you can have a conversation. You may be sending in your officer in riot gear because you expect him/her to be attacked, but that expectation is going to create that reality. The officer will be looking for an attack because they are expecting it to happen. That’s what leads to a black man being shot for reaching into his glove box to get his wallet.

It’s like this: there are a lot of LEGOs that my kids have left out on the floor for several days. Any parent anywhere will agree with me that LEGOs on the floor is a bad thing because you end up stepping on them or breaking things or whatever. If I, as a parent, walk into the room where the kids are, sigh heavily, and say “can you guys pick up the LEGOs, please?” without helping them do it, expecting that they won’t actually clean them up in the time I want it done or to the degree that I would like, it’s absolutely going to go exactly the way I expect. I will walk into the room 2 hours later and nothing observable has been done. I am creating that reality by a) expecting that they aren’t going to do the thing I asked them to do and b) not providing the tools or support to help make the reality that I would like to actually happen.

It’s hard to do. I struggle with it. Somewhere along the way, I decided that it was better to set my expectations of people very low and be surprised when they are exceeded rather than having high expectations of people (and occasionally being disappointed). Having low expectations is a generally miserable place, let me tell you, because I guarantee you will always see the worst possible outcome. And maybe you tell yourself “well, at least I was prepared”, but where does that get you, really?

When the results started coming in for the 2016 election, it was easy to see where the trajectory was going fairly early on. There was an SNL skit that ran afterwards that showed a bunch of white people (and the token black guy) constantly going back and saying “well, if Hillary just wins here, we’ll be fine” and continuing to pat themselves on the back for being so empathetic and supportive towards various marginalized groups. As the skit progresses, they get more and more panicked as the scenarios for Hillary winning become more and more far fetched. And the punchline at the end is “are we really that racist?”

I didn’t feel that way on election night. Sure, I wanted Hillary to win, but once the results started swinging in Trump’s favor, they never really swung back. You could look at the 538 or a million and one different reports about how Trump has no chance but historically, people did that the whole campaign and he did have a chance and he continued to defy expectations. He was a blind spot for half of the country who believed he couldn’t stand a chance. But it doesn’t take a data analyst to see the pattern, which was, every time we expected he couldn’t do a thing, he did it. A dark part of me started considering what would happen under a Trump presidency, even while I hoped that Hillary could turn it around.

And here’s the real “hindsight is 20/20” thing: many of us who supported Hillary heard what the Bernie supporters were saying about “this may be the only time we can elect someone like this, with ideas for radical change like this”. We heard you. But the thing is, we didn’t expect that to work. Government is slow, he would be fought on every decision by the GOP every step of the way. Every time he tried to make something happen he would get shot down. It would be as hard or harder as it was for Obama. Yes, Obama was a black man but a lot of what Bernie wanted to do was more drastic than anything Obama actually set in motion. And then there’s the fact that the President doesn’t really do a whole lot on their own. They don’t write laws themselves, for example. They can’t just pass amendments to change things. They make appointments, they set things in motion and they approve or deny bills. Would Bernie have had a better shot at getting things done than Hillary because he’s male? Probably, but we’ll never know. The point is, this whole thing maybe could have had a different outcome if some of us had a different set of expectations. Maybe. The point is that if we expect the worst, we won’t be disappointed. The point is, expecting to be attacked will make you more likely to be attacked or see a possible attack where there is actually none.

The point is we should expect better of ourselves and of humanity.

And to nod back to my last post about resolutions and goals for the new year (and to not end this post on such a down note), maybe the reason we so epically fail at our new years resolutions is because we never actually expect to accomplish them? Maybe if you are doing NaNoWriMo and you are focussed on the impossible task of writing 50,000 words in 30 days you won’t do it. But if you expect to be able to accomplish that goal, maybe you have a better shot at it. That’s the theory I’m going to have going into RPM next month. I have no idea how I will manage work and making music enough to compose an album in a month but I know I’ve done it before and I know I can do it again and I will expect it to be an achievable goal and so it will be.