What a Fiasco!

Stylin’ Steve is a lying, thieving, drug-dealing, prostitute john. He grew up in a podunk town in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the Deep South, where he and his friends would lick toads to get high. His criminal career truly began when he masterminded a meth dealership operating out of a Chicken Hut (gotta watch out for those blue mashed potatoes!), and eventually he would go on to run a drug and prostitution ring in Las Vegas, before being nearly killed by the police on his way out of town when the proverbial crap hit the fan. Where he is now, nobody knows.

At least, not until the next time he’s brought out in Fiasco, one of the most fun role-playing games I’ve ever played. You see, Stylin’ Steve is a character I created for one of my first games of Fiasco, and not only did he survive (rarely a guarantee in this game), he was so much fun to play that I proceeded to tell his origin story across two further Fiasco sessions, which served as prequels to his Las Vegas shenanigans.

So where did Stylin’ Steve come from? Was it a pre-generated character I chose from a list? An archetype I just slapped a name on? A meticulously min-maxed set of stats I hunched over for hours? Absolutely none of the above. Fiasco’s character creation is one of its shining points, as it is simultaneously entirely under your own control and yet a fully collaborative effort for the group playing. A set of tables with very loosely-worded and open-ended character-relationship concepts gets the creative juices flowing, but from there, the details are up to you, with the encouragement to solicit and employ feedback and ideas from the rest of the players.

Those tables also help you set the stage upon which the characters act, as a “Playset” provides you some kind of geographical location – anything from a specific town to somewhere in outer space – and some related situations and interactions from which to customize your group of oddball characters. Further, to keep it interesting and provide an easy basis for setting up outrageous scenes, each player also gets to help define the relationships among the characters – HOW each character knows two of the others, and what is one important factor in that relationship. This ensures that there’s always some facet of a character or a relationship to explore in any scene. Sometimes the hardest part is deciding which to focus on first!

Anyone who is familiar with RPGs that have some concept of a Game Master (Dungeon Master, Storyteller, World Master, whatever a given system calls it) knows what can happen when the players are given no real direction and are not kept on any kind of story-leash: total chaos. And Fiasco doesn’t just allow this, it leans into the concept fully by having no GM whatsoever. Players go around the table, setting up scenes or vignettes that revolve around their own character (even if their character isn’t even physically present), to create a hypothetical movie in the style of Cohen Bros. movies (Fargo being an oft-cited example), complete with twists and turns and often betrayals. There is a trade-off there, as before each scene, the player whose character has the spotlight gets to choose between full creative control over the setup of the scene at the expense of having any say over its outcome, or determining whether the scene ends well for their character but allowing the rest of the table to set it in motion.

By the end of the game, the story inevitably ramps up to some sort of outrageous climax, and even if your character dies, it’s usually either poignant and heartrending, or hilariously extreme. The grand finale has each player narrating how their character gets from the end of their last appearance to their ultimate fate, in a very cinematic, clips-over-the-credits fashion.

After playing this game so many times, I’ve played everything from Stylin’ Steve, to a dramatic gay astronaut, an Antarctic scientist smuggling contraband in penguin butts, a helplessly inept news anchor, a Wild West gunslinger, an evil-clone superhero, and even a young gold-digging woman trying to woo the father of the bride at a wedding – complete with the groom being my wingman! The sky is the limit and as long as everyone at the table is having fun, you can do just about anything you can think of.

All you need is a Playset – and there is a rich community of Playset-builders to supplement what’s in the manuals, and you can even make your own – and a handful of six-sided dice, and you can be on your way to outrageous hijinx with your friends.

Ando’s Rating: 9/10

A Brave New Year

Here we are again. 2017 is on its last day and we face down a new year. Often, this causes people to reflect on the past year and look ahead to the year approaching. This often leads to New Year’s Resolutions, which many people may know I have historically been incredibly outspoken against.

Let me clarify – I have no problem whatsoever with self-reflection and making goals for growth and self-improvement. That is actually quite wonderful. In fact, it’s such a good thing that I don’t think one should do it only at the new year. It should be a constant process. But at this point, it’s pretty much a cliche – “I want to lose weight”, “I want to get a new job”, “I want to earn a promotion/raise at my current job”, “I want to run a marathon”, and so on it goes. Laudable goals that are far too large in scope and vague in purpose that it’s hardly any wonder that most people fall away from them quickly. Of course if you’re saying “I resolve to lose 50 pounds this year!” you’re asking for trouble – that’s too big and ill-defined a goal.

Also, it feels short-sighted to focus only on the past – or future – one year at a time. Years are a human-determined and human-named arbitrary division of the fourth dimension (time) that only we even now or care about, and are only even relevant from the frame of reference of this one single planet, out of the countless other planets across the multiverse. I prefer to view my growth from the perspective of my life.

Continue reading

Identity and Reinvention

2016 has been a difficult year for me. You see, in the last week of December 2015 I made what should not have been a startling realization about myself – I hate being a software developer. In fact, I never loved it. It was never a passion. You see, as I prepared to enroll in college, I wasn’t entirely sure what I should declare as a major (a dilemma I know is far from unique), but since I couldn’t major at being a rock star, I fell back on programming. I had picked up some BASIC (har-dee-har-har developer humor) programming skills as a teenager and figured that would be a good career. So I declared that as my major, learned enough to be dangerous, and started my career post-graduation in 2007 as a .Net developer.

For a while, I think I was really able to delude myself into thinking I’d made the right choice. After all, once I moved on past my first entry-level job, I made decent money, had good benefits, met some good people, and I generally seemed to know what I was doing and be good at my job. And I think that was mostly enabled by the incredibly low standards at my first job and just being around a team of very exceptionally talented developers at the second job.

Continue reading

2015: A Year in Review

Here it is. October. October of 2015. This is kind of an important month for me.

In case anyone didn’t know, it was in October of 2014 that I joined Weight Watchers. The first step I took towards improving my life. In November of 2014 was when I finally admitted that not only was I depressed enough to seek help, I was able to finally admit that my lifelong self-esteem problems were not just personality quirks, but actually seriously self-damaging problems, and that I needed help for them too. That’s what led me to my psychological therapy, which was the next big step in becoming a better Ando.

If you look back to the post I made in December, I talked about these steps and how 2015 was going to be the year of taking care of myself, and it was my intent to become a man I could be proud of being. If you look back further into my blogging history, you’ll see that I made some similar comments and hopes in past years, and in every one of those cases, I basically failed. Whether it was life situations beyond my control (like losing jobs) or my own laziness or lack of motivation, time and time again throughout my adult life, I’ve pointed to the future with hope, and each year the hope died. Not a huge bang, just a quiet whispered “OK, guess not…”

Continue reading

Lions and Humans and Love – Oh My!

I have a heavy heart right now. That’s not to say that I am constantly sad or anything. In fact, for those keeping tabs on me after my post at the beginning of the year, my depression is pretty much past (this bout was largely sparked by the job I left at the end of December, so with the removal of the negative aspects of that job, the depression evaporated within the first few therapy sessions of the year), and even my therapist told me during my most recent session that I’ve made tremendous strides n the realm of my mental health, and I *FEEL* like a stronger, better man than I did at the start of the year.

So why is my heart so heavy?

Continue reading

A Loving Declaration

Love is a tricky subject these days. It really shouldn’t be. But for some reason, people are scared of who or how other people love. I feel like we’re always hearing about who should be able to love who else, or who we shouldn’t love, and so on. And these days, it feels like love has been trivialized to mean certain specific things and only in certain specific circumstances. It just feels like people are acting scared of love.

Continue reading

An Affirmation of Ando

Those familiar with me know my typical stance on New Year’s Resolutions (I don’t make them), but if you’ve known me and been following anything I’ve said over the past few years, you’ve probably noticed me struggling over and over with some common themes. And while we’re assuming that you, my hypothetical reader, know me that well, you also know that I am far from being a very private person. I am not afraid or ashamed to talk about subjects that others may consider too personal or embarrassing to bring up outside of in-person among friends. And if you are that private, then more power to you. I can understand that. But I’m frankly a lot more open about things.

So what you’re about to read is a little prelude to what will kick off (I hope) a 2015 I can actually look back on and be proud of. And if you don’t care about the ins and outs of my personal life and mental issues, then by all means, stop reading right here. I will not take offence. And you also should stop if you’re put off by really long posts, because I can just feel a wall of text coming. You have been warned.

Continue reading

My Country

Right now, the Internet is all aflame over SOPA/PIPA, and it’s easy to see why. Restrictions of freedom are scary, and for good reason. It’s just one step down a very bad path that, if left unchecked, can lead to dictatorships. But the way I see it, we, as a society, have landed ourselves here.

I have two real beefs to air here, and they both revolve around the fact that over time, we have let this happen.

Continue reading

Dear Social Media Users: Your Privacy is in Your Own Hands

Some time ago, I wrote an open letter to Facebook, pointing out a number of things the social networking giant had done that betrayed the trust many of us put in it in its earlier days. And indeed, in the past few months, many more privacy concerns have surfaced that are causing some people to leave Facebook, using other social media or just abandoning the concept altogether.

However, there is more to be said, and I direct it at you, the Internet community at large. It is easy, when so many privacy concerns are surfacing, and Facebook and many other social media outlets are guilty of exposing more than you would like to show, to just blame them and complain about how you never wanted your boss to see that picture of you doing that keg-stand.

However, I call for you to take some responsibility, and to recognize that in the long run, your Internet privacy is in your own hands. It should not come as any great surprise that information put up on an Internet website is less secure than you would actually like. We love to delude ourselves into thinking otherwise (and I have been guilty of that in the past as well), but if we are honest with ourselves, we should remind ourselves that the best principle to live by is to never assume total privacy. If we are willing to put any information about ourselves on the Internet in the form of any social media (and really, these days it’s the norm), we must realize that someone probably has access to it that we didn’t intend.

That being said, there are some steps you can take to minimize privacy concerns. The most obvious (and these days, the least feasible) is simply to not join any social networking sites. After all, if you put no information about yourself online, then you have total privacy. Anonymous E-mail is common enough that you can exist in the 21st Century with total anonymity. But that is not always possible, nor is it always desirable (it depends on your personality, largely). So if we assume you want to put yourself on social networking, here are some tips to keep yourself as safe as possible:

  • Choose your friends wisely. Sure, Mr. Party Animal might have been a great friend in high school, but if you’re trying to land a professional job, and your potential employer looks up your Facebook page and sees an all-caps drunken post from said Party Animal on your wall, it may look bad. If you really want to keep in touch with people, pay very close attention to your privacy settings for wall posts, or even ask some of your friends to abstain from posting things like that on your wall. Or if you really want to keep up with those friends, consider creating two profiles: one for your real friends, and one that will be more professional, and only use it for professional endeavors.
  • Check your tags. Anyone can tag anyone else in any picture on Facebook. If you’re doing any serious job hunting, or you suspect a boss is keeping tabs on your social networking activities, check out what photos you and others have got tagged. If there’s anything you wouldn’t want a boss or potential boss to see, un-tag it. The same goes for notes.
  • Follow the Internet Privacy Golden Rule. For me, that is “Don’t say or do anything on Facebook that you wouldn’t want your boss or mother to see”. After all, with the way things stand, there’s a good chance that at least some member of your family is on your friends list, or on the friends list of someone on your friends list. And as stated above, assume that your social networking profiles may be scrutinized by potential employers. So just be careful what your status updates may say.

Yes, it is unfair that our social networking has gotten so tied up with our jobs, and maybe sometimes we wish we could post something just for our friends, while keeping our family on a separate list, and do all of this without having multiple Facebook accounts. But what you have to understand is that our information is gold to advertisers, and no social networking site is going to turn down a lot of money just for the sake of maintaining our privacy. And as far as employers go, yes, it is also unfair that they would take our Internet profile and use it against us, but as long as the information is there, they want to see if they are hiring the right kind of person.

So, unfair or not, this is the world we live in right now. And until (or unless) a social networking site comes along that truly does care for our privacy – and don’t hold your breath on that one – we all must take our privacy into our own hands.