Finding Damo

The story of a man, his job, two cats and the meaning of success.

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Gamification

Let the Wookie WinI am, I must admit, an incredibly competitive person. None of this “let the wookie win” nonsense for me! Chewie would be beating me around the head with my own arm and I’d still be laughing at my victory. My seven-year-old step-daughter knows (or will learn) that if she beats me, it is purely through skill. For safety’s sake, I’ll start her off on Scrabble, and then maybe arm wrestling.

So I was intrigued when, while reading Popular Science, I came across an article called Can Treating Your Life As a Game Make You a Better Person? The author, Matthew Shaerat, talks about Gamification: the use of video game mechanics such as levelling up and gaining achievements in non-gaming situations. He decided to try and “score” his life for a week using a number of different apps and websites to see whether he became a better person.

It’s an intriguing notion. Until I look at my life and think “Hmm. I already use EpicWin to score my tasks. I use FourSquare to diligently list my location, going out of my way to check in to a place that will give me a badge. Not to mention my actual game playing. Achievements on World of Warcraft kept me playing long past the game’s expiration date.

Side note: I only got onto FourSquare  after reading Least I Could Do. I’ll link to the comic, rather than insert it, because it involves inserting and I really don’t need that on my page. But the comic is hilarious and I realised there was a form of social media out there that I wasn’t a part of.

But I’m talking about Gamification. And then I’m going to talk about games. And then you can have your lives back for another week. I take you back a number of years, to when I was living in Dromana. Shay, Dave and I decided to Gamify our dealings with shop staff. It was social justice rather than social media. We wanted people to be happy and thought we could make a competition out of it.

The plan: to get shop staff to smile. The reward: points. Lots of lovely points. And the point of the points? Well, none, really. But we got to say we were winning. And it showed we were still involved in the game. True to my dedication to not researching anything, I’m going to make up the points system again.

The checkout – argh! I want to write “chick” but I know I’ll get into trouble…

Points are awarded if:

The checkout chick (stuff it, I don’t care)                                  smiles:                                    10 points.
Laughs:                                   50 points.
Genuinely laughs:                                  100 points.

We kept score religiously for a few months. We made a lot of people happy, actively trying to make conversation instead of it just happening. It made me more aware of these people and I still try harder to make conversation while I’m waiting for my purchases to be tallied up. A funny little lady at Woolworths yesterday told me she would buy each member of her family a house if she won the Tatts draw, and a car for each grandchild, the youngest being a baby. It was an entertaining conversation.

Your challenge, then, is to tally up your points for a week and get back to me in the comments section. Let’s see who wins this one! Game on! I can even award badges! For example, the LOL badge, for when you get someone to laugh out loud for the first time:

The LOL badge

LOL

Or the harder to achieve ROFL badge. Make sure they’re not holding your eggs at the time:

The ROFL badge

ROFL!

Give it a shot. See how you go, let us know. It’s a way of life as well as a game.

And speaking of games…

A long car ride can be a wonderful or a torturous thing. Add a small child into the mix and the needle tends to swing towards torturous. UNLESS you get into the car forewarned and forearmed. You’ve been warned. Here’s the armament.

First up, car cricket. Many have heard of car cricket. One colour car is 1 run, Another is 4, A truck, perhaps is a 6, and something else is out. We don’t like cricket, but we’re quite happy to count cars. Here’s our variation:

For the whole trip (this works better for shorter trips in the city):

Purple Car

Five points!

Blue car = 1 point.
Purple, orange and pink cars = 5 points.
Yellow cars = two points.
Pointing out a yellow car that is actually a taxi = -2 points.

I don’t tend to bother with the blue cars, as the driver, unless I’m close to winning or passing another player. Go for the big score, look down side streets, remember that there is traffic in front of you (as the driver). Don’t forget your score (or DO, if you’re behind).

Secondly, the alphabet game. Start at A and go through the alphabet, finding the letters on signs and number plates. You cannot use a sign or number plate that someone else has already used. J and Q are stopping points, where your competitors can catch up. So if you can use the N in a Just Jeans sign, you can have your opponent gnashing their teeth while you power ever onwards.

The third game I want to detail is Roger, Rupert and Roderick. But the explanation involved in that one is a post in itself. So, I shall leave you here, the hero leaping over the chasm on his mighty white steed. Will he make it? Find out next week.

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The Darkness

Last night, my fiancé crawled up next to me.

“I had a nightmare,” she said, and told me what it was. It was detailed, it had dialogue, examined a number of themes and basically demonstrated a healthy subconscious dealing with the stress of everyday life.

About two weeks ago I woke up in the middle of the night and crawled up next to my fiancé.

“I had a nightmare,” I said. She commiserated.

“What was it all about?”

“Ghosts,” I said. And promptly fell back asleep.

And I’m the writer.

No, really, the dream was just as complex, with lots of themes and allowed me to recognise a fear of mortality that ended up being a blog post from a couple of weeks ago. But having voiced the fact of a nightmare, I put it out of my head and that was enough.

Last night I dreamed that I broke the neck of a rat because it was crawling around inside my shirt and I didn’t want it to bite me. Later in the dream I pushed a man (a bad man) down the stairs and snapped his neck with my boot because he was threatening to turn me in for something that I had done earlier in the dream.

My sister said to me today: “Your nephew is going to be a fantastic storyteller. He loves telling stories – of course they’re incredibly dark and gruesome, but a good read nonetheless. Just like yours.”

I have no idea why I so often go to the dark places in my writing. I write lots of funny, nice and friendly fantasy and science fiction. But the two pieces that have made it closest to being published are the story about the guy who cuts people’s “souls” out of their body to trade with the devil, and the wife who is sick of her overbearing husband and so feeds him to a zombie.

Lots of people laugh at death. Some people even laugh at Death. Maybe not twice. My conclusion is: if you can laugh at it, it’s no longer scary. I think I did the right thing by letting my stepdaughter play Plants Vs. Zombies. Zombies are no longer something that she is scared about. She knows the sunflowers and peashooters are out there to protect her. And a zombie with a bucket on his head just seems less of a threat.

So there’s that. Write funny stories about bad things and don’t fear the bad things.

But I also write pure darkness, with very little humour in it. And Shereen believes that I can write that because nothing truly evil has happened to me. I am living vicariously through my mind to try and experience evil from the safety of the page. I know that I love reading Stephen King and Clive Barker, revelling in every gory death. But I’m still rooting for the good guys. I still want to read the happy ending. And the happy ending means more when they’ve gone through so much more to achieve it.

Of course, sometimes I write horror because that’s where my mind goes when the story pops into my head. That guy just walked into an alley and didn’t come out again. Logically, he walked to the other end and left by another exit. But what if. . . hell, maybe the alley eats people. Maybe another man sends people there as sacrifices to the person-munching alley, to – oh I don’t know, to gain its favour and the power that goes along with that? And what in Bob’s name is a man-eating alley doing in the centre of Melbourne anyway? And then things get convoluted.

I want to read that story now. I should go and write it. And I need to start getting some things published. Or my twisted little four-year-old nephew might beat me to the punch.

PS. Oh, I haven’t put this one down on paper. You wanna see dark? Sometimes, for a good costume, things have to die. For those who are really squeamish and love their teddy bears, you should stop reading now and go and read Penny Arcade instead.

We're going on a bear hunt.

Fanboy

kiss me I'm IrishI’m writing this one on the team on the way into the city. I’m wearing a green shirt and a clover pin and should be quite inebriated by midday. The Pogues are broguing away on my iPhone and I feel like potatoes. It’s the one day I can match Dave in alcohol consumption without needing hospitalisation. The spirit of the Irish rises up within me.

Did the Pogues just sing the word puir? I think they did! I’m in green heaven.

If course, for a man who painted himself blue for a Discworld con, the green shirt and pin are a little mellow.

Various images of me being a fanboyD’you like what I did there? I neatly changed the topic from St Patrick’s Day to me being a little over the top when it comes to enjoying certain works of fiction.

My name is Damian, and I’m a fanboy!

But it’s not that bad. I’m a social fanboy. I don’t dress up by myself. I… I can stop whenever I want. Seriously.

Let’s analyse this.
Damo is a fanboy:
– I am on the organising committee for next year’s Nullus Anxietas convention (Discworld Down Under – I love a sunburnt turtle).
– I almost bankrupted our theatre group to put on a production of Terry Pratchett’s Mort.
– I painted Death Riding Binky o the back of my denim jacket and had it signed by Terry and embroidered by my friend Shereen (not my fiancé Shereen and NOT to be referred to as ‘the other Shereen’).
– I’ve been dressed – at varying times and amongst many others – as a feegle, the Cheshire Cat, Uncle Fester and Wolverine.
– I own a Stuffed Murloc that goes grlglgglglgl! When you squeeze his mouth.
– I own Red Dwarf on VHS, DVD and iTunes, all of the books and assorted badges and pins.
– I have photos riding a Nimbus, flashing a light saber, and of me trapped inside the Pandorica.
– I’ve been to 221B Baker St and platform 9 1/2. And indeed went to London with the specific aim of going to said places.

OK. Damo is not a fanboy because:
– There is not one sci-fi poster in the house… Hung up in the house. Of course, that will change in the new place.
– I’ve never worn a star trek uniform or forehead ridges. Hmm, that’s now on my bucket list.
– I’ve never spent more than I can afford on sci-fi merchandise. I’ve regularly spent more than a sane person would, but never more than I could afford.
– I don’t collect signatures. I’d much prefer to have the memory of talking to a personality than the physical bit of paper with a scribbled name on it. That’s not to say I don’t have signed books. And a couple of DVDs. And of course the jacket… OK, can I retract this statement? It’s not all my fault. You can’t be a fan of Terry Pratchett without signatures popping up all over your books. It’s like magic.
– Worst of all, I have no real feelings on Star Trek vs Star Wars. Or Star Trek DS9 vs Babylon 5. It seems sacrilegious. But there you go. Although if pushed – no. I won’t get that debate happening here.

Conclusion:
I’m a pop culture enthusiast with a penchant for dressing up and a borderline addictive nature that manifests in the collection of stuff.

I like to be involved in things because if I’m not there’s a chance I might miss out on something.

And my imagination leads me to immerse myself in worlds rather than just taking a quick dip.

But I think a true fanboy would laugh at me if I tried to call myself a fanboy of any particular genre or world.

Time for a Guinness. Begorrah!

Addendum: The morning after, wondering why Guinness always seems like such a good idea at the time, I realise that St Patrick’s Day has a lot to do with being a fanboy (or girl) as well. I’m not sure how many of the people at Dan O’Connell’s had even the slightest amount of Irish blood in them, but we all got together to celebrate the Irish – or we all got together to have a huge pissup and dress in ridiculous costumes. Sounds very much like a number of conventions I’ve been to. There was a girl in a Guinness suit, many many guys with fake sideburns, a lot of green hair and a few Vulcans… hang on, wrong convention. And you have to think, these people – even if they weren’t sober when I met them – were sober when they put the costume on in the morning.

Pfff. Fanboys.

To be sure, they're fanboys all roight!

Lies to Children

Andy Riley's Great Lies to tell Small Kids

This went straight onto the toilet wall...

I was listening to someone talking to my (almost) step-daughter the other day, wondering at all of her missing teeth and asking about the Tooth Fairy. The TOOTH FAIRY! The supernatural creature who comes into your room at night, takes your teeth and leaves money in return. Now I have no problem with the concept of fairies (see the Money Fairy blog entry) but I can’t help but be disturbed by the concept of a creature that wants my child’s teeth. What does she/they do with them? Anybody who has read (or only seen – heathens) Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather has a pretty good idea. But maybe there’s a thriving economy in children’s teeth in fairy land. We all know what rhino horns are used for. We should maybe be glad that the fairies aren’t just coming and taking teeth by force! Or maybe we should be preparing against the inevitable Tooth Recession of 2012. Our kids do eat more sugar than is good for them, after all.

20120308-132757.jpg

Ho ho Damo.

But that’s not my point (it’s just what’s going to keep me up at night for the next couple of weeks). We create these incredibly complex belief systems for children. Of course, children are wonderfully gullible. They’ll believe anything, and it is an endless source of amusement to me.

NOT A SMURF!

Definitely not a Smurf.

They won’t, however, believe that vegetables taste good. But they believe in Santa. They believe in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Smurfs and Pokémon. And we encourage this belief.

I’ve gone from child to parent with Christmas these past couple of years co-habiting with my soon-to-be step-daughter. It changes everything! I ate three mince pies before I was satisfied with the “santa bite mark” I left on the pie left behind for him. Oh, the sacrifice! And my reindeer dental print in the carrot had to be seen to be believed. For Easter one year I created massive bunny footprints on the carpet.

A point. I have one. Ah yes, my point being that to maintain these beliefs for our credulous offspring (or step-offspring, or random children on the street) we lie to them. Unashamedly and with delighted malice (or is that just me?).

“You must go to bed early tonight. And straight to sleep. If you wake up, Father Christmas might not deliver the presents!” Translation: “Will you PLEASE go to sleep so we can get the pressies under the tree before midnight? We know you’re going to be up at 5am.”

“It’s time to write a Christmas letter to Santa. Write down everything you want. He’ll choose one or two things that he knows you want most!” Translation: “I have no idea what a 7 year old wants for Christmas. And I need a loophole in case the child asks for something that’s sold out or costing a bajillion dollars.”

Paul Kidby's version of Death as Hogfather with Albert

HO HO HO?

Why do we do it? Pratchett’s answer, again from Hogfather, is this:
“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.”

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

“So we can believe the big ones?”

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

“They’re not the same at all!”

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME… SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”

MY POINT EXACTLY.”
― Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

Calvin's dad explains science

Calvin’s dad would say, and I agree wholeheartedly, that it is just more fun to tell an imaginative lie than explain the boring truth. It’s a defence mechanism against the dreaded, all-powerful question “why?” Anybody who has ever dealt with a young child will know the question “why?” and the mind-melting implications of infinity it brings with it.

“It’s time to go, Chad,” I say.
“Why?”
“Because we have to get home.”
“Why?”
“Because your mother’s waiting for her dinner.”
“Why?”
“Because she’s hungry after a long day at work.”
“Why?”
“Because the human body burns food the same way cars burn petrol.”
“Why?”
“Because, um, look. Have you had the God talk yet?”

A far easier response goes as such:

20120308-133026.jpg

What if I wasn't lying?

“It’s time to go, Chad,” I say.
“Why?”
“Because a velociraptor has escaped from the dinosaur park and if we don’t get out of here soon, he’ll burst in through the door and eat you, one leg at a time!”
“Oh. OK.”

See? Much more fun. Only slightly more therapy needed as an adult.

My grandfather used to say the best way to find out whether a cat was a boy or a girl was to pick it up by the tail and swing it. If the eyes popped out, then it was a boy. He then offered to demonstrate on our cat Pepsi, who he well knew was a boy cat. It is one of the ways Perry men interact with children. Tease them until they completely lose it.

Lies-to-children is a term I first read in Terry Pratchett’s Science of Discworld (written with Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. It describes the simplification of reality to help children understand the reality beneath. Things like “The Domino Effect started the Vietnam War” and “the sky is blue because of light refraction” are lies-to-children. Lies to Children are more along the lines of “the dog has gone to live on a farm where it will be happier.” or “if you have any more ice-cream it will leak out of your eyeballs and freeze your brain.”

I know which I prefer.

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