I have missed you so much, beloved blog. But in the silent dormancy I filled with three separate surgeries on my jaw, I also applied to—and was accepted—as an Industry Insider at Gen Con this year. I get to be on panels with some fantastic humans, and hope I’ll catch you at some of them! With luck, I’ll be getting in some time playing a few games at Games on Demand as well.
Gaming as Mythic Exploration
How does the act of creating, exploring, and defining a game world resemble the creation and exploration of myth, both as ritual and as scripture or literature?
Thursday, 12:00-1:00 p.m. ICC 211
Lillian Cohen-Moore, Kenneth Hite, Greg Stafford
The Image of a Female Gamer/Gamesplayer
How do we bring women into male-dominated worlds of gaming? This talk can explore the fine line between feminizing and sexualizing female archetypes and which is more likely to draw girls in.
Thursday, 5:00-6:00 p.m. ICC 211
Lillian Cohen-Moore, Jennifer Shahade, Elisa Teague
Editing: When, Why, and How
Editing benefits a game from start to finish. We’ll talk about when to get an editor, why, and how to become one.
Friday, 3:00-4:00 p.m. ICC 211
Lillian Cohen-Moore, Andrew Hackard
The Devil Walks in Salem – From Fiasco Game to Film
Join the story gaming revolution! Learn about the unique adaptation of an actual Fiasco gaming session into a narrative film. Join Jason Morningstar (from Bully Pulpit Games), Lillian Cohen-Moore (co-creator of Fiasco’s Salem playset), Peter Adkison and documentary filmmaker Elke Hautala for a short panel discussion on how this story was brought to life on film. Then, enjoy two screenings! First the short documentary on the process itself followed by the actual film, The Devil Walks in Salem. Witness the power of storytelling firsthand!
Minimum Age: Teen (13+)
Friday, 11:00 p.m.-1:00 a.m. Westin: Capitol I
Women in the Game Industry
A panel designed toward women who want to get involved in the game industry and what obstacles there are to face, how the industry is changing, and other business tips.
Saturday, 12:00-1:00 p.m. ICC 210.
Lillian Cohen-Moore, Nicole Lindroos, Jennifer Shahade, Elisa Teague
Freelancing and Mental Health
No matter your diagnosis or where you are in dealing with your mental health, knowing you’re not alone can make a difference. Come hear peers discuss how they get through the hard times.
Saturday, 2:00-3:00 p.m. ICC 210.
Norwescon 37 is nearly upon us in beautiful Seattle, which means it’s time to share my schedule. You can find me at the con April 17–20th!
Faith in Speculative Fiction
Fri 2:00pm-3:00pm Cascade 10
Faith is an area that is often overlooked in world-building and character motivation for speculative fiction in spite of the impact that it has had and continues to have (for good and bad) in our world. How does faith affect the setting and formation of a fictional world? How has faith been used well (or badly) in our genres?
Lillian Cohen-Moore (M), Stina Leicht, Ken Scholes, Dean Wells, G. Willow Wilson
Tech at the Gaming Table
Sat 2:00pm-3:00pm Cascade 12
Do you involve technology into your tabletop game nights? What works and what is just a big distraction? This will cover tools to involve people further into your stories, and how to avoid the pitfalls of modern day attention getters driving distraction from the game. We will also talk about how to use Skype and other video conferencing to involve players from far away.
Lillian Cohen-Moore (M), Eric Cagle, Bruce R Cordell, Amber Eagar, Dylan S.
Sat 10:00am-11:00am Cascade 3&4
Not every disability is apparent at a glance, nor is anyone’s personal health anyone else’s business. From mental illness to chronic disease to a variety of syndromes and impairments too lengthy to list, we’ll discuss the difficulties of living with chronic health conditions, the stigmas associated, what progress has (or hasn’t) been made in reforming public perception, and strategies on getting other people to mind their own blasted business.
Maida ‘Mac’ Combs (M), Lillian Cohen-Moore, Sar Surmick, Lilith von Fraumench
Women in Games
Sat 4:00pm-5:00pm Cascade 7&8
Our annual discussion of women in both the games industry and gaming as a hobby.
Julie Haehn (M), Lillian Cohen-Moore, Angel Leigh McCoy, Lola Watson, Gwen Yeh
Seanan McGuire Q&A
Sat 5:00pm-6:00pm Evergreen 3&4
A Q&A session with Norwescon 37 Special Guest of Honor Seanan McGuire.
Lillian Cohen-Moore, Seanan McGuire
In other upcoming con-related news, I’ll be Indianapolis this August 14-17, for Gen Con, as an Industry Insider Guest of Honor. This year’s slate of Insiders is amazing, and I’m so happy to get to be a part of it.
If I think back, I’m pretty sure the first time I heard of Storium was a passing tweet in Will Hindmarch’s timeline. The word caught my eye. It got a mental post-it note stuck to it, and I kept my eye out. When Storium first went into playtesting, I didn’t have time to check it out. I wouldn’t actually have a playtesting account till last November, and I wouldn’t actually start playing or narrating games till February.
Why play Storium, when I’ve already done play by post for years? When I already have years of live-action roleplaying and tabletop experience?
Because it clicked for me.
Storium is about a story, one you’re telling as a group with friends. When I attempt something but don’t succeed in perfect, boring colours, my friends bite their nails while finding out what happens next. In so many games I’ve played in my life, failure was a dead-end. Storium has novel DNA in it, and dead-ends can be opportunities, either for growth, or unexpected developments.
Play-by-post games, in my case, are usually a recipe for burn out. My PbP experiences have largely been mirrors of the more unpleasant experiences I’ve had with toxic tabletop groups. That Storium wasn’t a message board was a huge sell for me. I don’t have to roll dice, have someone roll dice for me, or use some retrofitted-to-online math to find out what happens at the end of a swordfight, a rockfall, translating the ancient book. The system for creating and resolving challenging situations is baked into the site, and everyone gets to see the plays other people make. We’re all using the same tools, tools specifically designed for this purpose. I’ve been gaming for over 20 years, and the challenge/resolve system Storium uses is one of the more fascinating ones I’ve ever seen. And I mean that. I mean that with sincerity, to the point that you can find me saying it on their Kickstarter page.
I started narrating my first Storium game on February 24th, 2014. “But we’ll only shoot for a scene a week,” we said, “because we’re all very busy people.” Honestly, I expected us to lag behind that. We’ve played 15 scenes since the game started.
We’ve only been playing for seven weeks. The chain is as of yet unbroken.
Storium has made people new friends, and put them in touch with old ones. It is a genus loci of a place that doesn’t physically exist in one place. Because Storium exists in many places. And all the Storiums inside, nesting, murmur to each other constantly. People are trading chat names and emails and playlists. The people telling stories are doodling and texting and laughing about what just happened, what might happen next. They’re telling people about the life explosions that kept them from playing that week. Giving each other ideas. Stretching their creative muscles. Telling and playing stories with others, even when they’re afraid they won’t seem as great, shine as much. Storium doesn’t make people more creative: it simply reminds or aids discovery of worlds already inside you.
You get what you put into a game. Storium has a great frame, but it’s a house that’s still asleep, unless players get inside. Then, it’s inhabited.
And once it’s inhabited, it’s alive.
If you want to support Storium adding new worlds, and paying amazing writers to mold them, you can find their Kickstarter page here.
Few things will tell you about someone’s work like the reference books they keep close at hand. When I shared my own reference stack on Twitter, I asked for people to send me pictures or lists of their own handy volumes.
My primary reference books are, in order of size:
The Annotated Sherlock Holmes (Baring-Gould)
Shannon P. Drake
PR Account Coordinator/Dubious Freelance Writer
Shannon can be found tweeting as @PappyShannon
Caroline can be found on Twitter @dirtycarrie
At the end of 2012, I started a short run as a guest contributor at Bitch Magazine’s blog, examining a number of games and careers that have been produced by the hobby. One of those games I explored in my column was Avery Mcdaldno’s Monsterhearts. In The Sexuality of Monsterhearts, I talked about one of the most integral parts of the game: the sexuality of the characters the players portray.
For those unfamiliar with Monsterhearts: “Monsterhearts lets you and your friends create stories about sexy monsters, teenage angst, personal horror, and secret love triangles. When you play, you explore the terror and confusion that comes both with growing up and feeling like a monster.”
The game was immediately appealing but very fraught for me, and I was incredibly lucky to play the first time with three gifted, kind gamers who made it a very worthwhile experience. I’ve only played Monsterhearts at conventions, and bought my copy at a convention after playing it yet again. It wasn’t until after Big Bad Con in 2012 that I’d end up reading the game in its entirety, and the lack of guidance on treating each other and the subject matter with kindness had really concerned me. But Avery recently completed a short supplement of sorts called Safe Hearts, which will appear in Jackson Tegu’s What Big Teeth You Have.
It’s exactly what I’d said Monsterhearts was missing, and it is absolutely something you can use at the table with other games, and it would take very little customization to do so. Avery outlines the responsibilities Monsterhearts players have to their self, those they play with, and to the characters they portray. Before gaming, groups should set boundaries, to make the space one where people can explore difficult and human topics. Players should breathe, and take breaks to release tension, to reflect and be able to return to the events at hand. 
Finally, Avery went over ways players can deal with emotionally recovering from a session of Monsterhearts, with reminders and strategies for being able to call for emotional care during play.
It was the last section, “Reasons to Play,” that spoke to me deeply. That we play to, however second-hand, experience some of the lived experiences of others. We can live, feel and grapple with painful, truthful segments of life when we play a game. That final thought is in a nutshell why I play, write about, and sometimes help make games. Through fiction, we can learn more about the world. Setting up guidelines to honoring limits doesn’t mean that we will be perfectly safe. Nor does it mean that we won’t explore frightening, uncomfortable, strange emotions.
It means that we are telling each other that we will not abandon one another on our strange journeys.
 I have a lot of thoughts right now about adapting emotional care to online gaming environments, like games run inside Storium.
Shoshana Kessock is a graduate student at the NYU Game Center, studying Game Design. When she’s not in the classroom, she runs Live Action Role-Playing games, blogs, and regularly deals with zombies at the larp Dystopia Rising. She’s also the coordinator for a first of its kind conference in the United States: the Living Games Conference. Earlier this week, Shoshana answered a few questions about where the inspiration for the conference came from, the work going into it, and why we need it.
Where did the idea for the Living Games Conference come from? When did you make the decision to coordinate the conference?
How did you assemble the program, academic committees for the conference? What role do they play in how the conference works?
I was lucky enough to have met a lot of really great people while traveling and studying LARP over the last few years, so I had a wonderful group of people to reach out to and bring in for the program committee. Thinkers like Jaakko Stenros, Jessica Hammer, Nick Fortugno, Emily Care Boss, Evan Torner and Sarah Lynne Bowman were all people with whom I was familiar already, so when I reached out I was happy they agreed to help. They came together to help me review all the submissions and decide just who would be speaking and how to help the speakers focus their work to make the best content possible for the conference. Then the academic committee was brought together to review the papers that will be submitted to our proceedings journal that will go with the conference. Along with their usual brilliance in the field, everyone has been fantastic in supporting the work we’re doing here as well.
Who would benefit from attending the conference?
Living Games is a space that can benefit anyone interested in thinking about LARP as a designer, a scholar and a community organizer. Those are the three groups in mind for this conference specifically, but I’d also say that anyone who is even interested in hearing more about the hobby can come and participate. The lectures we’re bringing in are largely academic or design-focused, but LARPers who aren’t any of the above would be able to enjoy the talks and especially enjoy the workshops or game’s showcase.
Why do we need this conference?
Will there be recordings from conference talks available after the conference, or live streams during talks?
We are working on getting the conference talks recorded so that they can be made available. In fact, we’re running an IndieGoGo to help fund that portion of the conference that is near to funding. I believe that documentation is so important for us to create that ongoing dialogue about LARPs, so along with an academic proceedings journal to go with the conference, we want to video all we can.
When I was 15 years old, I saw an explosion. I was shoulder to shoulder with my mother in the parking lot of the grocery store, watching a black cloud shooting into the sky.
And then another cloud.
At my feet, I’d dropped the bags I’d been holding. Groceries. Bag of oranges. People stopped, like in the movies, stopped moving, and looked up at the sky turning black. Maybe we were all in shock. Maybe I was just in shock, and everyone was still moving fine. Then all at once, we were moving again, a chorus of voices erupting around us and my mother’s tight voice, the voice she never used, telling me to grab the bags. To get in the car. We started driving, through a city turning dark, a city where a fireball would roll down a nearby creek bed next to a street, incinerating everything in its path.
Power was out everywhere.
We were driving away from the flood of people being evacuated, because we lived outside town, out beyond the miles of broken glass and pitch black clouds. No one knew what it was going on, and we drove past policemen directing traffic, past them, past the sounds of sirens and fear as the fire raged on behind us.
Today, the first episode of a game brought that all back to me, in fresh, startling hues. The heart pounding fear and the need to get far away very, very fast.
It’s an app game, called The Walk. The big view of what The Walk does is simple: it gets you outside, walking, getting exercise. But just walking can be bloody boring, and The Walk fills some of the silence. It sits in your ear, punctuating the silence filled by your breath with voices, pleas, and irresistible action.
The Walk is a thriller. In a case of mistaken identity, a woman takes a seat next to you in Iverness Station. She says things you don’t understand, confusing things about places you’ve never been, and then the world explodes. She guides you out of harms way during the evacuation, passing off a package to you before realizing too late that you are not the courier she was supposed to find.
But you’ll have to do.
You’re walking away—you have to walk because the men looking for you, for her, they’ll see you run—with the only working cell phone in Iverness after the EMP goes off. A woman you have never met before is going to give her life to buy you time to escape, with a package you haven’t opened and don’t understand and are not prepared to carry.
If you stop walking, you’ll die.
If you stop your 500 mile walk, to get the package to Edinburgh, the human race will die.
Enjoy The Walk.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about women making horror media, this is your month. Women in Horror Month is going strong for February; you should take a look at their fun and often knowledge-filled hashtag on Twitter.
Being a single blog post, this is only going to be a drop in the bucket of the fucking amazing work being done by women in the world right now with horror, written or cinematic. But I keep running into folks who haven’t had a chance to dig into the work of women in horror, so consider this a bite-sized intro.
Leave info and links on your favorite women working with horror. I gotta add to my to-read/to-watch pile, and I’m not waiting till October to get recommendations.
Night Vale is a little town out in the desert, that at least claims to be nestled inside our beautiful United States. When you turn your dial to NVCR, you are guided through the day by the voice of Night Vale Community Radio, Cecil Palmer. If you choose to listen to the Welcome to Night Vale podcast in the background, much like I do with NPR, you will eventually suffer repeated mental whiplash, like I did when Cecil informed listeners about the consequences of a PTA meeting.
That whiplash, by the way, is a selling point.
What Is It: A free, twice a month podcast put out by the fantastic souls over at Commonplace Books. But you can donate to keep the dulcet tones of Cecil on the air, thus helping subsidize endless nightmares for the loving listeners of NVCR.
Genre: It’s tagged under “Comedy” on SoundCloud, and if you have what many would call a “twisted” view of comedy’s definition, then yes, it is certainly a comedy. Night Vale is obvious and up front in episodes about the supernatural, occult horror Night Vale residents encounter daily. But Cecil will often make an impassioned speech about the wonder, joy, brilliance and terrible beauty of human existence. Think of it as hopeful cosmic horror, with a pinch of small town terror. Like a Cozy Mystery after it runs amok in my liquor cabinet and left my house to paint the town red.
Really, really red.
Why Listen, 1A: If you’re here strictly for the chills, you’ll be in the right place. Episodes have great replay value, and if you’re desperate to know what happened without rewinding, there are a number of fan transcripts out on the internet. The podcast has solid scripting, which I’d define as excellent plot execution, consistent world building, and characters that can hold your interest. Episode 19, both A and B parts, scared all conception of calm out of me for the night after I gave them a listen.
Why Listen, 1B: If you’re a creator of art, serial shows, stage work, games, or fiction, Welcome to Night Vale is something to both study and enjoy. Good creative work teaches us more about our own execution of our work, and feeds whatever bizarre monsters that live at the bottom of our subconscious, who in turn whisper sweet, terrible nothings into our ears that eventually become income. For me, the podcast both inspires terror in me as a listener, and appreciative observation of the craft as a creator.
To Learn More: Go to the WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE website, which will also tell you where you can subscribe to the podcast. If you become smitten with the little southwestern town and its unknowable horrors, and want to wear your support, they have merch over at TopatoCo.
“Goblin Market” -By Faerie Light anthology – Zombie Sky Press, December 2013.
If you’re not nominating fiction for the Hugos this year, I still recommend that you pick it up. It’s a dark, strange, lovely anthology for fans of the grim folklore surrounding faeries.