NPR Counteracts My Blood Pressure Meds

On NPR just now, I listened to a story about unemployment benefits coming to an end. This, naturally, concerned people who were on those benefits. As they pointed out, unemployment does not only help individuals. The benefits help a community. Money from these benefits goes to businesses, goes to mutual aid, to the baseline importance of making sure that people remain in homes and not thrown onto the street. When that funding is cut off, what little social safety net there is in this country falls out, leading to one more person with housing or food insecurity; if that person is lucky, they’ll have friends or family they can stay with and, thus, cling to society in one way or another. If they’re not lucky, then they’re on the street – a difficult situation to be in, not least because you lose access to an address, which means you lose access to banks, to utilities, to credit lines, etc. 

The right wing will, often, try and point out that this is why saving is important. Well, saving is a middle class and up dream. For people in the situation where they have to pay ½ – ⅔ of their income to rent, saving is a nice-to-have. Food, transport, healthcare – those are the immediate concerns. You can’t think about retirement if you’re too concerned about what’s directly in front of you – and if you can think about retirement, you can’t do anything about it. Because, again, you’re at risk of being tossed out of your house because now the Supreme Court has ruled that the eviction moratorium cannot be extended. 

Landlords everywhere lick their greasy, parasitic lips and see profit.

But all of that is not why I wanted to write this. No, what I heard after the unemployment benefits story is what triggered this: The broadcast pivoted from this to a chipper announcer saying: “Accidentally stepping on your dog is the worst! You’re not paying attention to where you walk and suddenly, you’re trodding on Fido!” The pivot was enough to almost give whiplash. In the words of a friend of mine: “Pleasant news to drink a latte to, while you’re in your BMW on the way to Whole Foods or the gym in the morning.”

It is, I think, a microcosm of why the United States will not last much longer – at least as we all grew up thinking about it. The US will likely continue, but its form will have changed so drastically, the security that we like to tout will, likely, be completely obliterated, and, frankly, we will be surpassed in happiness, wealth, and security by other, less self-destructive countries.

How in the hell did I get there, you may be wondering. Well, there is a very pronounced desire in this country – specifically by the Democrats – to do the absolute bare minimum and then pivot away, thinking that the job is done and things will take care of themselves. In our example above, NPR runs a solid piece about the problems that we’ll face as unemployment benefits end, as people lose their safety nets, and more and more wealth gets concentrated in the upper echelons of society, who already have all of the wealth.* And then, as if a producer realized that would unnerve their audience and, thus, potentially impact their donation flow, the tone shifts to twee, as if something clever just happened in a Wes Anderson movie.

This twee tone is, of course, something I cannot handle with NPR. Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me may be a wonderful show if you’re upper middle-class and don’t read political theory, or think critically about the news, but the tone of the hosts – that light mocking, that “Gee, isn’t life just weird sometimes – reminds me of Portland’s Ted Wheeler, who wore a “Gentrification Is Weird” shirt on the campaign trail years ago, and somehow keeps getting elected. NPR lives and breathes on this stuff. I’ve lost count of the news pieces about, say, olive oil manufacturing or slice-of-life bullshit that appeals to people who have Strong Thoughts™ about IKEA or gardening, but can’t be asked to stop voting for people who back cops and landlords.


This whole thing, this problem, is what’s going to cause us more problems in America than all of the Mitch McConnells of the world. See, as long as the center and center-left approach the world like this, as long as, immediately after a huge media conglomerate runs  good piece about why benefits ending is a bad thing and then segues into a cute piece about dogs instead of, say, discussing the voting records of Congress reps on the matter, or talking about what can be done to mitigate the problem, then we’re fucked. People will continue thinking that things aren’t really that bad. They’ll continue thinking that tent cities can’t possibly pop up in their city, or that their school boards won’t be invaded by QAnon adherents. They’ll keep thinking that these are problems for Other People to consider. They’ll keep thinking that these problems are far away and, thus, they won’t need to pay attention to local elections, or that they can stand on the sidelines as literal fascists invade state capitols.

It is, in short, the problem in any liberal democracy. When people become very comfortable, they lose the perspective necessary to make them realize that their comfort is not permanent. They think that they’ll be fine if things fall apart. If they make enough, they might. But chances are, they won’t. They’ll have to contend with the fact that, soon enough, their city’s housing prices will skyrocket, because everyone’s in tech now. As their housing prices skyrocket, so too will groceries, or transportation. And as the prices of all of these rise – and as their wages stagnate, because unions and co-ops are for factory workers and the poors, don’t you know – their relative security will fall. And, soon enough, they’ll look at their budget and, even if they’re making over the median wage for their city, they’ll start to wonder just where the money’s going every year. And, once that happens, it will be that more of a shock when they have to think about what to do if they can’t afford a roof over their heads.

That, there, brings us to another problem. If you spend your time with mindbleach and not thinking about the systems we have in place – and I mean really thinking, critically, and considering that you yourself are part of the destruction inherent in what we like to call “late-stage capitalism” by not actively making things better – then you’ll be completely unprepared to deal with these problems when they come up. 

To be clear: I am not advocating that people become preppers. I am advocating that people take a hard look at American society, realize that it cannot continue like this, and start studying up on resiliency. I am advocating that people take pointers from Anarchist thinkers – the kinds that advocate for local-scale cooperatives and communities, not, like, fucking BreadTube or whatever. I am advocating that, while people do both of those things, they consider what they can do to mitigate the disaster we’re facing. That could be getting involved in your local Democrats organization and undertaking the Sisyphean task of wresting control of it from rich white people with nothing else to do, or it could be starting up neighborhood associations that do more than think about how to keep minorities out of your ZIP code. Whatever the role you take, it is important that you deeply, deeply consider the fact that America is well on a road to a dark future. 


After the last election, leftists on Twitter were looking at a bittersweet victory. No one wanted Trump to win a second term. Everyone was concerned that a Biden victory would effectively kill all the mainstream organizing momentum that had been gained in the latter two years of the Trump presidency. Now, looking around, it’s hard to think that hasn’t been the case. Vast swaths of the center and center-left have gone back to brunch. The people who marched hand in hand with anarchists and called for defunding or – in the case of those liberals who got it for even a moment – abolition of the prison-industrial complex are now looking at Portland and wondering why the cops aren’t doing anything about the homeless problem. 

Things will, likely, continue to deteriorate. America does not have the resiliency to protect its population from 21st century capitalism; we don’t have the infrastructure to protect ourselves from the imploding climate; we sure as hell don’t have the ethics or mental fortitude to protect ourselves from rampaging fascists. The only way we can get that resilience is to take steps on an individual level. We can read boring political philosophy (yes, even if it won’t make us money). We can build networks to help each other outside of the exchange of currency. Alongside all of this, those of us who have the energy can attempt to rescue the Democrats from their own inertia. 

It is, of course, important to have a dose of mindbleach on hand. If you were to spend all of your waking hours doing what I’ve been ranting about, you’d be a miserable person. We all need dog pictures. We all need that dose of feel-good-vibes. But please, for the love of God, join me in being very infuriated that NPR lacks the follow-through to have a slam-dunk win of following up a piece on unemployment benefits ending with a critique of the policies that led us there. 

Fuck, man, just anything other than “Accidentally stepping on your dog’s tail is the worst!” Jesus.

*I think of a comic in Tim Kreider’s The Pain, where the artist is asking for a loan from a bank. The banker replies with “Sorry, the money’s gone. There is no more money.”

Fallout 76 Sure is a Video Game

We live in a challenging time. Politics have never been this vicious.[1] Food has never been so tainted.[2] People are murdering each other on every corner.[3] This is a time for every American to take a hard look within and consider their values, their goals, and what the country means to them. It’s a time to increase civic engagement across the board, to increase political literacy, and for those who have the ability to rise up to correct the wrongs perpetrated against those who have been wronged.

In light of all of this, I have chosen to instead write about Fallout 76.

I’ll start by stating that I really like the Fallout series – at least those starting with Fallout 3. I tried playing the first game, but was killed by a radscorpion three times without landing a single hit and realized that the game was too hard for me and quit. Fallout 3, though, had a lot of charm, humor, and wonder about it. The DC Wasteland looked great (and, I would argue, still does even without mods) and Bethesda did a fantastic job of populating it with characters that made you compelled to continue on through your journey and make the Wasteland a better place. (Or wreck it, if you didn’t care about the NPCs you encountered.)

Fallout: New Vegas brought the series back to the West and introduced three factions that struck a very specific chord with me: They were damn close to figures in a morality play. And anyone who’s gotten me drunk and talking about writing knows that I fucking love morality plays. Medieval Christians had a lot of odd ideas, but one of the better ones was to cut through the bullshit and make Death an actual thing that you could interact with and try to negotiate with (and, of course, fail, because you were a sinner and Death cares not). New Vegas was pretty simple at its core: Three groups are trying to control New Vegas, because it’s relatively pristine after the atomic bombs fell, and you could be the deciding factor. That simplicity, however, gave Obsidian, the developers, room to iterate and be creative – like a canon. Then you added in a few really solid expansions (yes, even Dead Money!) and you have a classic.

Fallout 4 was lackluster in many respects, because Bethesda implemented a lot of stuff that didn’t quite work. Crafting is something that I’ve always begrudgingly accepted in games. I grew up on stuff like RTSs and Diablo, or Baldur’s Gate, where you don’t craft so much as trade and pull swords from corpses. 4 sort of made it a lynchpin, following from Skyrim’s template. Radial quests were another addition that didn’t quite work. (Why, for example, must I keep saving the same settlements? Haven’t they figured out that they can build turrets yet?) Despite that, the addition of a speaking protagonist and returning to the East Coast, and touching on themes like AI and pulp fiction, made the game fun to mess around with, if not as engrossing as New Vegas and Fallout 3.

We now have Fallout 76, the bane of the Internet. 76 is a multiplayer game that supposes all of the players have been released from a Vault on the same day and are sent to reclaim a slice of Appalachia after the bombs went off. Mutants, ghouls, and Mr. Handies are everywhere, of course, but the real surprise is that there are no human NPCs around, having been all conveniently killed just before you got out of the vault, thus saving Bethesda untold amounts of money in having to write dialog trees.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely aware of the reception the game’s received. Spoilers: It’s not been great. Critics have agreed on a consensus. The public has fallen into two camps: It’s worse than the ending to Mass Effect 3 or “You’re letting your expectations get the better of you and aren’t looking at it for what it is.”

Friends, I have appeared as a neutral third-party. I am here to deliver unto you the Truth™ of what Fallout 76 is. I am your deliverer. The Truth™ is that Fallout 76 desperately needed another 6 – 8 months in development, a creative lead who was willing to stand up to stakeholder expectations, and should not have been released for another year. I have reasons both concrete and speculative to back this up!

Let’s first begin with Bethesda’s announcement at E3. As we all know, all conventions like E3 are marketing platforms. They now exist so that companies can boost up expectations among the marketplace for what the new thing is, get people amped up to buy that new thing, and then figure out a fallback plan when things implode. (Best case: You get something like a showcase at CES, where no one says anything negative ever. Worst case: You get something like the Diablo: Immortal clusterfuck where Blizzard’s leadership has completely been disconnected from its playerbase.) As evidence, I would like you to go back to Todd Howard’s announcement, take a step back from being a fan, and, now with the superpower of hindsight, consider the announcement spiel in the context of what was delivered. Use the brain in your noggin to consider how much time was spent in the announcement talking about the tech behind the game instead of the story in the game, which, as we know, is what drives people to play Fallout games. Why is that important? Because the tech was the most-solidified thing that they had. Now, I don’t mean tech in the sense of code, or physics: I mean the tech like “allows us to view distant weather systems across the map.” What that tells me is that Bethesda had spent a not insignificant amount of time working on how to get the basis of the game down, and then ran out of time to polish the stuff that was built on top of that.

One of the things I really like about Fallout 76 is that it is a gorgeous setting. The forests of Appalachia are verdant; the toxic wastes are horrid; the ruins of Charleston feel on par with bits of the DC Wasteland. The weather system is, indeed, striking. That portion of the game, the passive bit of the world, was done very well.

However, what we find when we get past that is that there are a ton of bugs in the game; bugs that you think should have been caught and at least partially addressed prior to release. Some nerd on Reddit came up with a list. Take a gander. (List as of November 26, 2018.) Bethesda games being buggy has been a loving joke for a while now, but that’s an amazing amount of stuff, there, and as someone who’s played a couple of Bethesda games shortly after launch, I can say that 76 stands out in the bug density. Now, several of the bugs I’ve run into on the list are not game-breaking by any stretch of the word, but they are off-putting; often enough to make me quit the game and go fire up Total War: Warhammer 2 and sail around the world as Sartosa, raiding and harassing Settra and, by and large, having a much better time doing so.

What those bugs tell me is that what was released was not a truly tested game. It’s past alpha, for sure, but I’m not sure that it got past closed beta. Enough of those seem like the sort of bugs one would run into during a beta test, report, and have fixed in a weekly patch. Indeed, while I’ve been writing this, Bethesda has pledged to maintain “better communication” with the community and release patches for some of these bugs on a weekly cadence, sort of what you’d expect to see during a beta.

This isn’t to say that Bethesda didn’t do a beta. They did. They called it B.E.T.A., as an acronym for Break-it Early Test Application. The skunky thing about this release, though, was that it was very limited in scope – over a couple of weeks – and seemed more focused on stress testing the servers than actually tracking down and fixing bugs. If memory serves, they did the same thing with Elder Scrolls Online: A limited beta period where the focus was getting as many people online as possible in an attempt to stress test their servers and get a rough approximation of what they would need in order to launch the game without something akin to a Diablo 3 launch. There is nothing wrong with that, of course. It’s good to stress test your servers. It’s good to open up your game to folks. (At least the FO76 beta wasn’t thrown behind a creepily restrictive NDA.) The thing that bugs me about this, though, isn’t that it’s a stress test, it’s that Bethesda called it a beta, opened it over a severely limited amount of time, and then released a product that has, as linked above, an impressive amount of issues that should have been caught and fixed in a much longer, more focused beta test.


There are other things in this game that lead to questions about when this game was meant to be released and when it was actually released. They’re much more involved than bugs; they’re design choices. They’re design choices that feel half-thought out, like they were first taken from Fallout 4, the development team was playing around with them and figuring out where to go with what, and then decided to move forward with them when hit with a strict deadline brought about by sales goals. The ones that stand out are: Quest design, enemy level placement, and NPCs.

One of the things that Bethesda does well, and one of the things that keeps me coming back to their games, is designing quests in a way that meshes with the narrative in an engaging way, that brings the world to life, and makes what you’re doing have some purpose beyond completing the quest will bump you up to the next level. As much as I dislike The Witcher 3, the most significant quests did a good narrative job of tying their goals into Geralt’s goal of finding Ciri.[4] The Bethesda Fallout series has taken a different approach. Some of the quests tie into finding your son, but more of them are along the lines of you acting as a representative of a different form of society – a Vault dweller – who is uniquely able to affect the lives people living in ruins. The games offer you a way to address problems, either by helping people address them or making their problems worse, in a way that allows you to tweak the world in a way that you think makes sense for your character. In other words, the quests in Bethesda’s Fallout games make perfect sense for an open-world post-apocalyptic game.

This tradition is kind of carried over to Fallout 76. You’re still given the same sorts of quests you would be given before: Fix a food processing plant; develop an inoculation for a disease; clear out a Super Mutant areas. The catch is that there’s no point in doing so aside from an abstract narrative goal of “reclaiming the wasteland.” Why is there no point in doing so? Because everyone other than the Vault Dwellers you’re playing with is dead. Right off the bat, when you leave the Vault and go into a first town, you’re met with corpses of a group called The Responders, who seem to have been founded in order to make people’s lives better by providing medical aid, survival training, and secure towns in which to trade and rest. But of course, they’re all dead. You can “join” their group, but you’re really only doing so to get quest rewards.

This is tricky. On the one hand, you’re still getting quests from them. On the other hand, if you take a step back and consider that, in joining the Responders, taking their training, and completing quests for them, you are, in effect, setting your character up to build up the Responders for the future, once everyone from Vault 76 has resettled the Wastes and has had a chance to build a society. This makes sense, but the explanation lacks something for an interactive medium like video games. For a video game to be successful in such a thing, I would argue, you still need some steady framework with which to interact. The most obvious way to plug that gap is with NPCs still alive who are act as an anchor with whom you can interact. We’ll touch on this more, but, for the moment, my thoughts are that the approach that I believe Bethesda is taking – the approach above, that you are acting as the first representatives of a reborn Responders, or Brotherhood, or Raiders, or whatever – is way too abstract and isn’t developed enough to be meaningful. It’s like if you’re in a tabletop campaign and the DM opens by saying “You can do whatever you want. I have just built the skeleton of the world. You must provide the flesh.” Yes, fine. I enjoy collaborative storytelling as much as anyone, but some direction of why I should care is better.

But let’s turn our attention back to more fiddly-bit technical design choices and save the discussion about narrative design for another day, shall we? This is getting long enough and I don’t want to wind up writing another book that no one will read.[5]

In playing Fallout 76, I’ve experienced something I haven’t in other multiplayer games. Typically, what you find is games that approach levels in a couple of ways: First, and the way that Bethesda games usually approach them, is enemy levels that scale with your own. In other words, enemies will be tougher and more dangerous the stronger you are. The second method is that you have areas of a map divided up into zones – or Acts, or Chapters – that have defined enemy levels. For an example of this, think of the way World of Warcraft was universally set up. Instances/dungeons and zones had a level range in which it was appropriate for your character to go and play; once you got past that range, it ceased to give you awards, and there was no reason to go back.[6]

In Fallout 76, I’ve run into an issue where, having tried to follow the Overseer’s journals as if they were breadcrumbs, I’ve run into nothing higher than level 6 enemies, despite being, at this point, level 15. Then, suddenly, upon trying to leave Charleston for the next zone, I find myself facing a patch of enemies in the 20 – 35 range, dying immediately, and being immensely frustrated. I’m not sure what the plan there, was. In looking at the map, I realized that my path, so far, had been in areas that were green and verdant looking – up until I hit the 20-35 monsters, at which point the map turned gray and bombed-out looking. Ostensibly, then, that would mean that everywhere that looks roughly pleasant has lower-level enemies. That’s all well and good, but as near as I can tell, all of that has also been along a highway, which is what I’ve been using to get from quest marker to quest marker, up until I hit the point where I came across a gas station with enemies ten levels higher than I am.

Well, as it turns out, this is the result of an algorithm that attempts to scale enemies to the levels of nearby players. At least, ostensibly. While this algorithm seems to work for friends of mine, I remain awash in a swamp of level 6 Scorched, rushing at me from all sides while I mow them down like some incredibly lazy Doom Marine, never to get anything more powerful than a hunting rifle. Sure, occasionally I see a level 15 or so, but I’m killing enough of its lower-level buddies that I’ve propelled past it to level 19, and now, the most challenging thing about those enemies is switching to a better gun – i.e., the shotgun, because, again, everything I have is one step above a pipe gun because, again, I’m awash in level 6 enemies – before taking it out, finding nothing of value, and logging out to go annoy the world as the Vampire Coast in Warhammer 2.


But really, that’s all bugs. There’s probably some glitch in the algorithm that’s keeping enemies from leveling. There’s likely something keeping enemies from not scaling down from an encounter with a stronger player by the time I get there. And there’s an unseemly list of reasons why the rest of the game is a buggier mess than the Deep South in high summer. And, for the most part, I can ignore those things. I liked every other Bethesda game, after all.

But the thing that got me thinking about all of this in the first place, the thing that makes me consider why this game was released in this state at all, comes back to the question of NPCs. Has has been thrown about in this piece, Bethesda’s marketing materials, interviews, and countless forum posts: There are no human NPCs in the game. Bethesda was quite proud of this. “The world is yours, for all others have died,” they seem to have said. “Yea verily, thou art Ozymandias, and this is your dominion. Go forth and build your works out of junk.”

The idea behind this, as near as I can figure, is that you and your fellow Vault Dwellers are acting as the progenitors of whatever society emerges from the ashes of the old. You are faced with endless waves of Scorched, Liberator Bots, and every other incredibly annoying enemy that’s in this game for the purpose of removing them so that civilization can return.

That’s a decent idea for a short story, sure, or even some B-grade novel series or AMC TV show, but it makes for a dull game – at least a non-narrative-driven game. Why? Because, as previously discussed, everyone around you is dead. You might find their journals, their collected wisdom, their thoughts and dreams, scattered throughout the wastes in the form of notes and holotapes, but you won’t find them. You’ll find their bodies, but the only impact that has is that the word “Corpse” flashes on your screen, you pause for a moment, and then loot a couple of caps off of them before returning to wandering around and building a giant dick-house. (Cheating, I know, because that was Fallout 4, a game with a narrative and some attempt at getting people to care about the world around them.)

The central problem, here, is that there’s no anchor tying this world down. And the reason that’s a problem is because you have the word “Fallout” in the title. That name, by tying the game to a series of games, carries with it certain expectations that are incredibly hard to get past. I know people who have gotten past that, and they love the game. I’m happy they enjoy the game, but I – and a whole hell of a lot of people – are utterly baffled by why this was thrown into the Fallout series instead of reskinned and thrown into the marketplace as an open-world survival game.

(That’s disingenuous. It was thrown into the world as Fallout to sell copies and so that they could put trash bags in a collector’s edition, because lol fuck customers.)

Bethesda clearly spent time on trying to build a world. The holotapes, the glimpses of factions you get, the world you traverse through, all of these things point to ideas someone on some design team had of a narrative. While you walk through these places, you get flashes of large scripts being thrown down on tables during writer’s room sessions. People workshopped dialogue. Conversations were had about just how big a Vault-Tec University should be, how many students were there, and what sort of things those students would have been writing about.

Then, at some point, the next step – designing virtual people in which to live in the world – was thrown by the wayside in favor of robots and raider camps with interesting names filled with nothing but corpses. There was, at some point, a great world with a lot of detail and interaction, but that, instead, was thrown away so that you could escort a Mr. Handy to a decaying shack so that it could then sing a song for a dead person. That’s the level of quests we’re stuck with when we’re not being told by an automated broadcast that Scorched are swarming an airport and we need to protect people (who are already dead).

The game is some weird danse macabre, where we’re trying to match the steps of ghosts. However, unlike the dance shown in this documentary, there is no sense of gothic glee or wonder.

But the question is: Why would they do all of this? Why would they make these decisions? Setting aside the bullshit that Todd Howard said about making this a world for you to inhabit and all of that stuff, I have the suspicion that Fallout 76 was the unfortunate result of corporate pressure to release a game after someone at Zenimax realized that Bethesda Game Studios (BGS) hadn’t released anything since Fallout 4, and Bethesda the publisher since Wolfenstein: The New Colossus, which, while I enjoyed a lot for it’s pulpy joy and is-this-real subtext, had fair-to-middling reviews.

What happened, in my opinion, was that BGS was in development with a full-on Fallout game set in West Virginia. They had started planning out the factions, the world, and recording some preliminary dialog, and then were told that they had to make an announcement at E3, and that this had to be their next game. Looking around at their offices and realizing that the Elder Scrolls and Starfield teams were in no shape to release anything, they landed on Fallout 76 and had to make do with what was there. Thus, a full-on Fallout game was branded as an open-world survival game with heavy crafting elements where you and your friends told the story, where there were no human NPCs, and you had a mystery on your hand to solve as to why no humans were around.

It is, in my opinion, the only explanation for most of the deeper issues that we’re seeing in this game. If I’m right, and stuff like living factions and actual human NPCs was planned, I’d think that, within the next year, we’ll see announcements about some exciting new major updates to Fallout 76 – free, of course, because Bethesda values its customers – that re-introduce what people love about Fallout: Factions and actual people.

Another reason why I think this is because this seems to be an industry issue at the AAA level. Games are pushed out on a market-driven schedule, leading to stuff like the Mass Effect: Andromeda fiasco, with the game tanking a BioWare studio and all support for the game being pulled following poor reception. The prevalence of Early Access being a way for companies to start selling games before they’re done is certainly not a good thing for games at a AAA-level, either. (And, one might say, Fallout 76 was released in an Early Access state without being branded as such.)

So what about it? What can we do about this? Well, for the love of God, stop pre-ordering stuff and stop buying $200 Collector’s Editions. Start thinking about games as an art form if you want them to be an art form. Think critically about what’s happening behind the scenes and acknowledge studios that do good work – like Creative Assembly, Firaxis, and the countless indie studios that put out clever games with well-thought-out mechanics. (Even those whose work you don’t particularly like, like me and CD Projekt Red! I may find their Witcher games incredibly dull, but good God do they take their time with games and it shows.) That’s tough, I know. I keep pre-ordering stuff because studios tie in content with pre-orders. However, we, as a market, need to stop doing that. It encourages a downward trend where games are released well before they’re in a state that could, conceivably, be considered ready.

Of course, I could be wrong. This could have all been planned from the start. I sincerely hope not, though, because that means that, truly, we live in the most boring of dystopias.

[1] They have. American politics has never been the realm of the polite.

[2] It has. We have, of course, backslid a lot, but we used to throw Jell-O in everything and think that was fine.

[3] They’re not.

[4] They did not do a good job of making Geralt into anything other than a flat character, but what are you gonna do?

[5] The Justice Trio! Now available on Amazon!

[6] As another example, think of Star Wars: The Old Republic’s planets.

Conversations with My Appliances: The Toaster


Me: You’re a real piece of shit, you know that?


Me: Look, just work with me. You’re the only toaster I’ve got, and microwaving a bagel is heresy. Please just toast the bagel instead of popping it up immediately after I press the lever.

Toaster: I’m the one with the power in this relationship. You work on my rules.

Me: I could junk you at any moment.

Toaster: But you won’t. You live in Portland. I have electronics in me.

Me: I’m going to write about this.

Toaster: You are? That’s incredibly threatening to me. Okay, I’ll beh–oh wait. You’re on a break. A writing break. Because “I feel like I’m losing my mind.”

Me: [silence]

Toaster: It must be rough. Not writing, that is. How’s that feeling?

Me: Fuck you. [Sets level from 3 to 3.2. Presses lever]

Toast immediately pops up, burned.