My understanding of what the Bible says about same-sex marriage.

I am apparently out of practice with writing persuasive essays, or coherently assembling researched examples, or writing this sentence,.? I’ve tried writing this clearly several times, and have ended up deleting it. So…

*sigh*

Here it is, as a bit of a ramble:

I’m really certain that the Bible is telling us to embrace same-sex marriage. The most obvious part is where, in I Corinthians 7, Paul is like “it’s better to stay single if you can abstain from your sexual urges, so you can focus on serving God, but it’s better to marry than to burn with passion.” Or the whole context of the relationship between sex & sin, where all sex outside marriage (whether fornication (pre-marital) or adultery (post-marital)) is sinful, but sex within marriage isn’t sinful—it doesn’t matter whether it’s sex with your girlfriend, your betrothed, your same-sex partner, your mother, or your brother’s wife; if you aren’t married, it’s sin. But then Deuteronomy 25:5 actually commands men to marry their brothers’ widows, and once they do, sex with them is no longer a sin, but a fulfilling of God’s command—just like any other sex-inside-marriage is, as reinforced by I Corinthians 7!

So if marriage is the only way to have sex and it not be sinful, and if it’s thus “better to marry than to burn with passion”, isn’t it clear that we should get married to a person we “burn with passion” for, regardless of their gender (as long as doing so would not require adultery; as long as they and we aren’t already married), so that all Christians may be saved from the fires of their own passions through the covenant of marriage?

Paul doesn’t say “it would be better to abstain, and better to marry if you can’t abstain, BUT some of you don’t get that option because of who you want to marry, so if you can’t abstain you’re just going to have to burn in Hell”, it’s just the first part: “It would be better to abstain, and better to marry if you can’t abstain.” And importantly, he also talks a lot about grace; i.e.: “It would be better not to sin, but if believers do sin, grace & mercy cover that sin, so they won’t have to burn in Hell for it.” I think this all ties together; even if we commit adultery (which also includes: re-marrying after divorce while your first spouse still lives) and even if we fornicate, we’ll be forgiven, but that doesn’t give us license to sin more (see: Romans); we’re supposed to do everything we can to reduce our own sin and to help fellow Christians reduce their sins—and since marriage is the only way to help two people avoid sin while having sex, we should be encouraging people to marry (regardless of gender) while providing a supporting community which will help that marriage last, stably, without ending in adultery and/or divorce. (I won’t attempt to get into the adoption/orphans side of this; that’s fairly well covered & obvious.)

Teaching abstinence-only, to any group which has not been led by the Spirit to intentionally choose that path (i.e.: monks/nuns), is not Biblical. We should be teaching healthy marriages, building communities to support healthy marriages and build strong families, and encouraging those who struggle to abstain from sex to work toward marriage—we should certainly not be admonishing sinners for trying to be righteous, or preventing them from undertaking the one covenant under which sexuality is separated from immorality.

Ooh, here’s another important point: So in Acts 15, the early church is trying to make a ruling on whether new Christians (Gentiles specifically; e.g.: not Jews) need to follow all the Old Testament rules, and in verse 20 they say, effectively, “Nah. Just tell them not to do these 4 things: Don’t eat meat sacrificed to idols, don’t eat the meat of strangled animals, don’t eat blood, and don’t be sexually immoral.” But then in Romans 14 the issue of eating meat comes up again because some people, because they couldn’t know for sure whether the meat at the market had been strangled, or sacrificed to idols, were abstaining from eating any meat at all—and more so because other believers, having fully absorbed the lessons Jesus teaches in Matthew 15 understood that it is not what goes into our mouths which defiles us (that’s just food), but it is by what comes out of our mouths that we may be defiled, were fine with eating meat.

Now, to me it seems clear that this isn’t just about eating meat (read the rest of Romans 14), but about freedom and about what rules we need to follow as Christians. Gentiles were given a mere 4 rules to follow (out of the hundreds in the Old Testament), 3 about what to eat and one about sex, and in the very next book of the Bible it becomes clear that “strong” Christians understand that they don’t really need to follow those rules, as long as they are “fully convinced in their own mind” and do so “giving thanks to God” in whatever they do—and why wouldn’t that apply to sexuality, too? At the very least as regards marriage, if not all sexuality?

Which, of course, goes to the main point of Romans 14, which is that, while some of us may be strong enough in our faith to understand that even same-sex marriages are marriages and even the sin of same-sex sexuality has been forgiven, we must not treat with contempt those whose faith is too weak to accept same-sex marriage. At the same time, those whose faith is too weak must not hold in judgement those of us with faith strong enough to permit it. And those of us strong in the faith must not flaunt our freedom in Christ, lest we put a stumbling block in the way of our brother or sister. Now, in the globalized, Internet-connected modern age, the recommendations at the end of Romans 14 become more challenging; the Church is not just the local community, any more, nor the body of believers who may stumble over our freedoms merely those who see us with their own eyes.

Therefore, although it seems clear to me that the Bible supports and encourages same-sex marriage (as it encourages anything which will help reduce sin), it also seems clear that we must be cautious not to cause those whose faith is not yet strong enough to embrace that concept to stumble, by acting on the freedoms given us in Christ. Instead we ought to focus on encouraging and strengthening the faith of our brothers and sisters, studying the Bible with them and teaching them (and showing them, through our actions, attitudes, and behaviors) of grace and mercy and forgiveness, that one day this stumbling block may be removed from before them. (Just as we have long since moved past a fear of eating meat sacrificed to idols, even knowing that most every piece of meat available to us was sacrificed to the idol of wealth. Our faith is strong enough that we do not become defiled by eating. Someday the Church will have faith strong enough that we will not stumble over helping people avoid sin.)

Here we go again, with the existential crisis about game design…

While waiting for everything for Teratozoic to get here, I’ve been developing a card-drafting game. At first it was built around storytelling/story-building, a version of my first game, Paved With [my...] Intentions, expanded to create a complex multi-act storyline instead of a vignette… but I ran into technical and existential problems with crafting the story-space my imagined/envisioned game would take place in, so I dropped the theme—but my brain kept thinking about card-drafting games. (I’m sure, in part, because I bought several other card-drafting games to study, and have been playing them a lot.)

So over the last week, a complete game sprang forth from my mind & hands, with almost fully functional mechanics and no theme. By mid-week I picked a placeholder theme and re-skinned all the cards, and now I have a fun, fast-paced, competitive card-drafting game in need of more play-testing. The proto-theme is ‘Black Friday shopping’ and the best name I’ve thought of so far (which I haven’t yet Googled) is “Black Friday Blitz”, and it’s got an interesting double-drafting mechanic, where players are drafting from two different decks at once, passing cards in one based on where they’re sitting at the table (as in most card-drafting games) and passing cards in the other based on how fast they drafted from the first deck; it takes the fast-paced mechanic of card-drafting and adds a race element to it.

So far it’s tested pretty well, and I’ve already ironed out some kinks & shortcomings in the initial design, but the artwork is … basic. Nearly every “graphic” is actually a dingbat from one of the many dingbat fonts I have (or found, specifically for this project), which is nice on one hand (all vector graphics!) but is also … fairly weak, and somewhat incoherent (since they come from several different dingbat sets) and not really the sort of thing that, say, people would get excited about on Kickstarter. If I wanted to produce/sell it as more than a prototype, I’ll have to redesign the cards, probably from the ground up, and create 24 unique pieces of art (several of which represent abstract concepts, not easily presented by representative art styles) for the various cards in the current version of the game.

Unfortunately, right now I don’t feel like my own capabilities as an artist are well-suited to delivering on the ideas contained in “Black Friday Blitz”. This becomes a self-fulfilling situation; this is in the nature of being a creative person, that you can usually only do what you believe you can do. Additionally, the tone & style of the artwork which I envision matching that of the theme & gameplay is one which … I almost wouldn’t want to put my name behind. Which I almost certainly wouldn’t seriously consider buying, myself. I have no idea how to sell it, or who to sell it to. Which makes, say, including the cost of paying to hire an artist in a Kickstarter goal to publish the game… even more difficult.

I’ve been targeting POD for this game, trying to keep the rules simple enough to present on cards (since DriveThruCards doesn’t print rules), so I wouldn’t need any big, up-front investment to publish it. That doesn’t work without art. To hire someone else would probably end up costing $1k-$3k, which is no big deal if you’re raising $15k+ on Kickstarter to pay for mass-production, or if your last game was profitable, but my last game raised ~$6k and is projected to net me around $300 (in part because my printer died right before I needed to be able to print ~300 shipping labels, an unexpected extra expense)—I can’t afford to pay an artist to work on this game with the last one’s sales, and I can’t reasonably expect this one to outperform the last one by 3x+, when I can’t imagine who would even buy it. So then we end up back where most of my work lives, with me doing all the work—in this case, all the artwork.

Which brings me back around to my old existential crisis. What am I doing this for? How much effort do I want to put into creating a game I don’t think people will actually want to play? What’s it all for/mean?

I mean, I’ve been really excited & motivated to design the game, and even to play-test it. Like, after the last time it was played (Friday night), I made a couple of small adjustments to the game flow (and wrote out the basic rules for the first time) and I’m still itching/eager to test the new setup. Like, super excited to improve, polish, and play my new game. So on one hand, that’s great. I still love designing gameplay, and playing (at least at first) my new game designs.

On the other hand, I can’t seem to sever things like choosing an art direction and creating the art from the ideas of marketability, audience perception/snap-judgements, and the reactions game reviewers had to Teratozoic’s art style. Which makes even thinking about what the card art should look like transform into this evil, hulking, acidic thing I don’t want anything to do with. It associates the idea of taking the game from a prototype stage to a publishable stage with a feeling of failure, with pain, with suffering, with the idea of how far off the rails my life went to try to raise ~$6k for Teratozoic and how much worse trying to raise $15k+, especially for a much-less-obviously-marketable game, would be.

Now, there are potential alternatives. Perhaps I’ll come up with an easier-to-conceive-of-marketing theme to paste on, over the top of the existing mechanics & theme. Perhaps I’ll start taking mind-altering pills every day which will help me grind through the 24 pieces of art without collapsing into a pit of despair—and can then just dump the thing on DTC and forget about it. (That’s actually my current best-case plan.) Perhaps I’ll put together a compelling package & sales pitch for the game [mechanics] and sell the thing to a publisher which will figure out a workable theme, hire an artist, and otherwise take care of the things which are bugging me, right now. Perhaps I’m just experiencing a temporary mental and emotional slump, a part of my lifelong journey of depression, and I’ll have no trouble completing the game if/when my brain stops doing … whatever it’s doing. Perhaps I’ll be okay with setting the game aside once the gameplay has reached a satisfactorily polished conclusion, without art or public availability, like most of my prototypes.

I’ve definitely set up my life & business so as to not be dependent on continuous sales or product releases. I certainly don’t create with the intention of making money or accumulating fame. That I create at all has more to do with maintenance of my own mental health than with any other factor.

I think that right now I’m just testing out the limits. I don’t want to go *too* far into doing things which upset me or otherwise compromise my mental (&physical) health, but perhaps it’s not a good idea to shy away at the first signs of discomfort. Perhaps I should try to stretch myself, being wary of going too far.

Last time I went too far.

With Teratozoic, I went too far. Much too far.

This time, perhaps I can figure out a way to publish a game without going too far.

My most successful Kickstarter yet

I suppose I ought to have made at least one post last month… At the beginning of the Kickstarter, say, to try to drive more traffic to it (as though this blog got any traffic, at this point), or perhaps during the campaign, to give more background on the project or on myself or on my plans for the future… But instead I forgot to think such thoughts until now, until well after the campaign has ended: Until after the stresses of the last several months have had a chance to dissipate.

My mind is finally beginning to clear from the clouds and stresses brought on by six months of marketing.

I have now spent more time thinking about and working on the marketing for Teratozoic than I’ve spent: Thinking about and developing the game and refining the gameplay and creating the art and doing the graphic design and writing the rules and play-testing with dozens and dozens of people.

This literally sickened me, though I won’t go into the details here; you know what various colds and flus are like, and probably know how stress weakens the immune system to allow them easy access. The last month or two have been awful. But now it’s over.

The Kickstarter was quite successful. More successful, by far, than any prior crowdfunding attempt I’ve ever made, bringing in $6511 in pledges from 323 backers. That’s an order of magnitude more funding and more backers than my next-most-successful campaign. There’ll even be a little money left over after fulfilling all the rewards, this time: Usually I barely manage to cover my expenses, or fall a bit short. All that extra time and effort and money (which wouldn’t have been possible without another round of crowdfunding I did back in April) spent on marketing seems to have paid off.

The result falls neatly between success and great success: Three or four times more than I needed to fulfill the game and cover expenses, and three or four times less than I needed to actually have the game mass-produced instead of POD-produced. (Another three times as much as that and I could have started offering proper stretch goals.) I need about 266 copies for backers, and a few more to cover shipping and manufacturing errors, so I’m making Teratozoic a signed, numbered limited edition of 300 copies. I’ll be hand-assembling every copy, anyway, so going the extra step to sign & number them seemed reasonable, and adds value.

Plus, it hammers a nail in the game’s coffin for other people, making it easier to communicate that the game is dead. Once I’ve delivered every pledged-for copy, any remainder will be available for direct sales, but they’ll merely be dead copies sitting up on my shelf—and once they’re gone, that’s it for the game. 300 copies of the First Edition, no more. I’m not sure I’ll even be playing it much, once all is said and done; I’ve now played (or watched played) more games of Teratozoic than any other game in my life. Including Scrabble. (Even if we pretend my 18+ Scrabble variants are the same game.) ((Which is nuts. I’ve played no small amount of Scrabble.))

Getting everything from the manufacturers I’m working with will take a couple of months, then assembling & shipping everything will take a week or two, and then there’s days, weeks, maybe months waiting for everything to get delivered to backers.

In the meantime, I’m working on other projects. I have a few other games in early development; one or more of them may be great enough to pursue beyond prototype stage. My mind has recently begun prompting me to start writing again—spitting out short SciFi stories and horror texts and doing deep world-building without really intending to. …so I might get back to writing again, soon, too. I’m not sure I can stand getting back to marketing again, though. Not at anywhere near the scale I just did to get this moderate level of success. Certainly not soon, possibly not ever.

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Counting down, ramping up

It’s only about 3 weeks until the Teratozoic Kickstarter launches. The campaign will run from July 21st through August 16th, 2014—technically a “short” campaign at just 26 days. I started sending out review copies about 6 weeks ago, and have been trying to avoid counting down the days, but as the campaign gets closer and closer, it’s harder and harder to avoid. (Not to mention, every time I look at the preview version of the project page (to tweak some wording, update images, obsess over the reward tiers, question every single thing on the page; you know… normal stuff) the countdown is running; this thing has been counting down to August 16th for over 100 days.) Time keeps on ticking.

A couple/few months ago, the plan was to be using this time demoing Teratozoic locally. At Phoenix Comicon, at local game stores, to anyone I could get to try it, spreading the word, sharing the game as far and wide as possible. Except I’m an introvert with situational/social anxiety problems. I sometimes get panic attacks at board game nights when there are too many of my friends in attendance. I’ve got no background or experience with public gaming; I get uncomfortable if there are more than one or two new friends-of-friends at a game night, even if the total population never gets high enough to trigger my anxiety-they’re strangers, it’s uncomfortable.

I tried the Comicon thing. Having never participated in gaming at a convention, I don’t know how it works. Yes, the tense of that sentence is correct; even after a couple of days worth of panic attacks and overcoming anxiety for long enough to approach a few other local game developers & reviewers and get my game into people’s hands, I never could figure out how things were run up there. That’s even after several emails back and forth with the people who run gaming at Phoenix Comicon, before con, to be sure things would go okay. I have no idea how people play games up there-I mean, I saw people gaming, enough people to really freak me out, but the whole thing was too much for me to even ask (a stranger) how it works.

The entire Comicon situation really pushed me over the limit, socially. First of all, I don’t think I’ll ever intentionally go to a convention of that scale as an attendee again. (Well, maybe I’ll try PAX once, if the opportunity arises.) Secondly, I haven’t and don’t expect to make any attempts at demoing Teratozoic at local game stores. Just figuring out how something like that occurs… thinking about it stresses me out a little.

(I recently acquired passes for Maricopacon, a small local gaming convention which I should have several friends at; hopefully I can get them to explain the social conventions of the convention. Maybe I’ll bring a few copies of Teratozoic. Maybe I’ll get through the weekend without a serious panic attack or a retreat home.)

What this means is that Teratozoic’s “marketing” rests almost entirely in the hands of the couple dozen reviewers and game designers I sent/gave copies to. Out of my hands, as discussed previously, even more than I’d been hoping. Sure, I’ll send an email to the ~150 people on my mailing list and I’ll post to Facebook and Twitter when the campaign goes live, or if/when it hits meaningful milestones. Obviously, I’ll keep up with comments and questions as/if they come in to the project; absentee creators serve no one, not their backers & not themselves. Sitting in my office typing, sure, but no marketing that requires me to actually interact face to face with human beings. So there’s not much left to do, as the days count down.

But there is a certain amount of ramping up which needs to happen. Getting the last of my ducks in their rows. Pre-writing FAQ answers (as ridiculous as that seems, prior to anyone asking questions), pre-writing project updates, preparing the email to send to my mailing list, updating the ‘Media’ section of the project page (and the game’s page at modernevil.com) with quotes (maybe graphics) and videos as reviews come in, that sort of thing. Not a lot, but a few things to do as the days drop down.

The anticipation is … toxic. With luck, I won’t self-destruct before August 16th. From there it’s easy: Just producing and delivering the game; none of that marketing mess, and much of the rest of the process will return to my hands instead of relying on the whims and opinions of strangers. With ever more luck I’ll have some art commissions to work on, and a new set of cards to design and draw and test and refine. That kind of work, I enjoy. Heck, assembling and packing dozens/hundreds/thousands of copies of the game is a sort of work I enjoy. This waiting, the marketing, the pretending to like dealing with people; that’s not for me.

But it is my next several weeks.

Out of my hands; the second-hardest part

(Marketing is the hardest part, and this part is all tied up in the marketing, of course, but this isn’t what makes marketing hard for me; this just piles on.)

There’s still work to be done, marketing for miles, but I’ve already sent out a bunch of copies of Teratozoic to reviewers now, so it’s beginning to be out of my hands. The last 6+ months I’ve been working on the game, the art, the rules, the graphic design, the marketing materials, planning everything, it’s all been the work of my hands—ostensibly under my control. The further along the project goes, the more it’s out of my hands. It begins with trusting printers to do their jobs, to accurately produce the specified colors and quality levels, to deliver on time, once I move into proper prototyping—but it’s still in my control to choose the right printers, to adjust my files, and so on.

Once the game is out in the public, in the hands of reviewers now, and in front of potential backers later this summer, and in the hands of players in the Fall, it’s out of my hands. What people think of it, what they say about it, whether they’re interested, whether they want a copy, whether they mention it to their friends, whether they play it again and again or only once or not at all—it’s all out of my hands. Beyond my control. All I could do to influence the game’s future lies in its past, in its design and production and presentation. It’s very difficult.

It’s hard to let go.

When one’s creation is disliked, badly reviewed, or attacked, it’s only a natural reaction to feel bad about it, to get defensive, to want to change people’s minds, or to fight back. Which is mostly inappropriate. I mean, feeling bad is fairly private, but the rest tends toward making things worse, rather than better. So even though those reactions are natural, one must fight against them. One must hold back. Try to let go.

The perspective I tend toward is to consider my works dead once done/published. Dead and buried. Grieve that all the best is behind us, but then try to move on, to forget, to ignore, to make something new. (I’m already working on at least two other games.)

Which makes this intermediate period, where the game is partially public (in the hands of reviewers, already (prematurely) being reviewed) but not yet public and still requiring months of (the hardest kind of) work, quite like suffering alongside a terminally ill loved-one. The pain, the struggle, the hard work and hard decisions and knowing that in the end it’ll only end in death and loss and pain. Even if some may celebrate the work, even if it reaches significant financial success, even if it’s generally well reviewed, even if thousands of people play and enjoy it, once it’s out there it’s got to be dead to me. It’s too hard any other way.

It’s too hard to hold on to something once it’s out of my hands.