Episode 71: Podcast Saga Part 24 - First (actual Play) Impressions


(Music fades in)

            Quick announcement before we get into the showcasing, I guess… The Podcast Saga is slowly coming to an end. An inevitable end. But I didn’t quite know at any point how it was going to come about, and now here we are. It feels like the right time to go back to the mix grab bag of media topics that this show was always supposed to be. Now additions to The Podcast Saga will come up as the show progresses. So it’s not a complete end, but it won’t be such a dedicated event.

            So here’s the plan. I’m going to do one more showcase of the odds and ends I couldn’t fit into saga thus far. Then a week off for me to regroup, and then a Season 3-ish that will extend indefinitely until something else comes up. Will something else come up? I don’t know. I’m not great at thinking ahead, and I think you might have noticed. But whatever, I’m doing the best I can.

            So yeah, that’s the plan for now, and I plan to firmly commit next week.

            And it’s not like there aren’t other Miscellany Media Shows you could be checking out in the week I’m taking off…

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            Not all actual play shows are created equal or identical, I guess would be the better word. The good ones will always have a lot of heart and a dedicated cast, but that’s about it in terms of similarities. And so, maybe as an extension of that, the way we think about or talk about these shows should also change. That happened last week, but this week is a little different in that the discussion will be a bit more uniform just not what you were expecting. Probably.

            Because when I was prepping for the first show on this list, there was a certain thought I couldn’t shake… about framing.

            If you haven’t heard that word before… I believe it. Let’s face it, education systems have problems and narrative terms in English class are somewhat okay balls to drop. So let me explain, framing can be thought of as the way a story is presented. In example that comes to me for me, the one that taught me this term is Frankenstein, Mary Shelley’s novel, in which the story of the monster is actually being recounted by the scientist to the hapless soul that happened to get entangled in the chase while trying to do a good deed. We’re not just starting with the tale of Frankenstein’s monster. Frankenstein the scientist is telling us what happened.

            But framing goes beyond that. For a podcast, there’s an element of framing in your promotion, in your premise, and in how you present that premise to a potential audience. Those are choices, and in those choices, you show what matters most about your show or what the most relevant details are. But for some reason, I couldn’t leave it, and then I couldn’t let that thought go. Well, okay, there is a reason. Not a great one, but sometimes the synapses of my brain fire in a weird way.

            But if that doesn’t interest you. Here’s the relevant bits. I list the shows in the show notes, and I do recommend them. They’re actual play shows, and they are good ones. So if they seem interesting to you by title or premise alone. Go listen to them.

            But I’m going to talk about the significance of presentation because that’s the part I can’t stop thinking about.

(Music fades out)

            Hi. It’s M. Welcome to episode 71.

(Music fades in)

            The first show I want to talk about is called Prism Pals, a podcast I found through the interconnected web of podcast twitter. So let’s go to Twitter and see what their bio is. I promise it’s relevant. Okay. Here it is. It reads, as of recording this, “an all-ages actual play D&D 5e […] where four LGBTQ+ individuals tell a story about diversity and inclusivity. New episodes biweekly.”

            Remember that, but now let’s go to the actual RSS feed on your player of choice. What does that feed start with? A history episode. And then what? Well, more in-depth presentations about the characters than what you see in most actual play podcasts. Soft asterisk on that because for most actual play shows, episode when characters are introduced are also some of the first episodes they ever do and all those involved are still getting their footing. And boy do I understand that struggle. That’s, like, my personal aesthetic. I’m always launching before I quite know what to do.

            At that stage, it would be hard to know exactly what an audience needs you to explain, especially if the game you are playing in your actual play show is a familiar one


            It is not necessarily a failure on the part of the cast that don’t flush out all of these details. It’s understandable and maybe even inevitable in the right light. Rather, it’s a particular mark of extraordinary effort that Prism Pals included a history episode and quasi- or actual interviews. These are conscious choices that could be interpreted one of two ways.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            First, those working on the show don’t want to put the burden of conclusions, in this case composing those conclusions, on the audience when having the player state them is both easier and ensures that those who are listening will have the same understanding of the characters as those who made them. On the other hand, which is really just my hand, in a story that frames itself or features its commitment to diversity and inclusion, there’s something important and absolutely necessary about the past.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            In so far as Miscellany Media Reviews is concerned, my link to the Philippines has really only ever come up in passing. I think it’s largely been just comments about times I went back to the Philippines to see my family, and if my family is living there… well, one plus one will normally equal two. There might be some bizarre formula in which one plus one would be referring to, usually by someone who doesn’t have great with a math vocabulary, a formula in which this wouldn’t be true. Like one of variable z plus one of variable z in a formula in which z cannot equal one…. Would not equal two. But that’s incredibly convoluted in a context in which you had no reason to think things were be convoluted. I mean, Oracle of Dusk is loosely based on a whisper of a folk legend within Filipino culture. And my hugot is all about Filipino culture. So yeah, one plus one.

            But regardless, it’s not something I talk about a lot. Because it feels weird to. Look, I could go on and on about how disjointed I feel with my culture. Or I could tell you a story about that one time, in college when I went to join a club for Filipino students and was promptly asked whose girlfriend I was and what it was like to date a Filipino. Like, yeah, I’m bad at small talk, but that low hanging fruit had actually fallen to ground and had rotted. I know I don’t really look that Filipino, but we didn’t have to make it so obvious.

            What all of that leads to is an awkward moment at work the other day when it somehow came up and despite my being at that office for two years this was the first time anyone had heard about it. That’s not necessarily odd. Conversations about race and ethnicity are things HR would love you to avoid. But there were times when it could have come up in a friendly way. I mean, we’ve had four office potlucks since I started there. And Filipino food is amazing.

            It’s just a difficult subject for me. And sure, you can take that statement at face value, but it would be another thing entirely to know the stories that led me to that moment, that latent in your surprise is a reminder that I don’t look Filipino, much to my mother’s surprise. In fact, everyone on that side of the family is genuinely surprised that I look the way I do. Filipino genes are supposed to be pretty strong, but I guess not.

            There is this sense in which the things that happened to us and the choices that are made by us and other people end up becoming a part of the people we end up being. Just like the scars of a bad accident end up lingering on the skin. It can’t be helped, only softened.

            This raises a question, though. Because my workplace is pretty great. It’s just this thing came up, and now we all get to spend some time avoiding that. I would think that true inclusivity isn’t just ignoring the scar. It’s—if the bearer is willing—knowing how it got there and the hidden world the scar signifies.

            So for an actual play podcast to be committed to inclusivity, there is this sense in which you have to include the past, the past of the world and the people involved. Maybe not in an overly serious way, but the idea has to linger there, somewhat.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            Second on the docket would be Lovelycraftians, and oh boy, that’s a terrible thing to be staring at in a podcast script. I mean, you get used to it. And I do need to get used to it. The Lovelycraftians pose an answer to a genuine question that might seem off-putting to even think about but is actually part and parcel with modern living.

            But okay, Call of Cthulhu is the table top role playing game for this podcast. And if you don’t know or didn’t immediately recognize, Cthulhu is one of the most famous horror creatures made up by the writer H. P. Lovecraft. The name of this podcast isn’t exactly a pun off of his name. Because Lovecraftian horror is its own thing now. And maybe it’s better to not think of H. P. Lovecraft too much. Like if the death of the author was ever relevant, it would be here. He might have done a lot for the literary world, but that doesn’t mean we should think about him.

            The branch of horror he pioneered, Lovecraftian horror because why be subtle, emphasis cosmic horror or the horror present in the unknown. There’s this sense of fear when we are confronted with what is beyond us or our comprehension, the sorts of things that make us question are sense of reality.

            That’s horrifying, right? Well, add that to the list, I guess. We live in a terrifying age. And there are various ways to engage with it, I guess. Disengagement being the most obvious one. I mean, there’s something appealing about refusing to do the thing that is causing you distress. And I think that’s what most people have done in days gone by. Disengage with those sorts of horrors.

            But we don’t do that anymore. Now, we laugh.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            Another random event that happened at work. A co-worker almost hit me with a door, like face first, and I decided to crack a joke about it, saying, “if only you knocked me out. I could have gotten workman’s comp.”

That end up being a fun meeting with HR, she says sarcastically.

            It was a joke, a dark humor one that didn’t land well. I don’t want to be injured to the point that I need to file a workman’s compensation claim. I mean, that amount of paperwork seems horrifying, and despite how rough the past couple weeks at work have been, I really do like my job.

            But such a joke was a way to cut the tension. It was a way to move past the moment that didn’t require me to muster up a sense of forgiveness that might have beent impossible or irrelevant. And the person who almost hit me would get to be liberated from whatever guilt they might be feeling.

            But yeah none of that landed well.

            It was a generational thing, I think. That when faced with so many problems, millenials have chosen to mock aspects of our plight. See jokes about getting hit by a campus shuttle to get their tuition paid or to get good grades that semester.

            On one hand, doing so is incredibly cathartic. Like I said to the HR person, it’s a way of cutting through the tension that arises from having this elephant not just in the room but looming overhead, ready to crush you if it is drops or falls. While you know it doesn’t change anything to make those joke, the air around you seems to shift, which is usually enough and also leads to the other hand.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            It’s liberating to tell this thing that it will no longer have power over you and that you will belittle it for even trying. It doesn’t necessarily negate what it can do to you, but it takes your reaction and puts it back in our own hands.

            If you’ve ever retaliated against an elementary school bully, that line might sound familiar. You can’t control what happens around you, but you can control how you react to it. And there’s a right way to react.

            Now let’s ignore the flaws in that logic that have stuck with me since my childhood because there is some wisdom there if you move it to a different context.

            Unlike the school yard bully, cosmic horrors by design don’t answer to anyone like a teacher who really should be doing their job. Cosmic horrors are just there, looming overhead. So in the absence of any type of controlling force. Your reaction is really all you have.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            Here’s where Lovelycraftians come in. True to the game, our band of many adventurers are facing these Lovecraftian horrors that—oh no—exist in our very reality. But there’s no succumbing to terror. It’s a game, a game they are playing with their friends, I imagine. I mean, they do get along very well. And while they are further hindered by the roll of the dice, by sheer virtue of being an actual play podcast, they can’t surrender nor will they. They do have to push forward. But they do so happily and creatively.

            It’s an embracing of this dark, horrifying thing that got incorporated into your life and your refusing to let that pull you down. It’s a really common sentiment now. It’s what you see in many of the memes that catch on.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            Living as a millennial has been ripe for jokes and mockery in those older generations. It’s much like a millennial’s dark humor, deciding to disengage through laughter. But it’s not that they are afraid; it’s that they don’t understand. And it’s easier to decree that something isn’t worthy of being understood than to go to the effort of actually understanding it.

            The difference is this presence of an alternative solution. Comprehension and compassion can be gained, but a cosmic horror cannot be conquered. Except in a table top role playing game. And even then, those games can be lost.

            And all of that goes to prove that it’s surprisingly a difficult line to navigate, this comical minimizing of a genuine issue. Lovelycraftians ends up being a model of the phenomenon that cannot be so easily articulated. Yes, there is a time to joke and disengage. Yes, there is a time to joke and engage. There are times for no joking at all, but those might be surprisingly rare. Or at least, they aren’t where we might expect them to be.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            There’s a quote from Hannah Arendt that was never meant to have the significance I give it, but all the same, I’ve thought about tattooing it on my ribcage, if practically speaking that was ever something I could do. It goes, “Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.” And in both of these show that is very much true. The storytelling they do shows something critical without requiring a lengthy explanation. That’s fodder for a different podcast… Like this one!

            But their method probably a lot easier to understand.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            This has been a production of Miscellany Media Studios with music from the Sounds like an Earful music supply. Thank you for listening. If you like what you heard, considering leaving a review or buying us a Ko-Fi. All those links are in the description.

(Music fades out)