Catching up on RSS after a stomach bug

I’ve been grappling with a stomach bug the past few days, which was as good a reason as any to unplug from everything I could for a little. Two things I thought were notable as I caught up on my RSS feeds:

Donald Glover Can’t Save You. I lost track of his career after Community–and this article hints that there is a bigger story to tell about that particular series–so this profile was enlightening. I’ll cop to not even having Atlanta on my radar, but this piece convinced me I needed to watch.

I Went To The Olympics and All I Got Was This Tentative Sense of Hope. I have always loved the Olympics–the weirder the sport, the more I want to see it–but the toll they take on the hosting cities and all the corruption pervading the IOC has made that love problematic, to say the least. I liked this article mostly for the small peek it offered into what it’s like to go to an Olympics as a local. As a TV watcher, it was a little — worrying isn’t the right word for it? — that the ads were so repetitive; to me, a sign that Big Corps don’t think Americans watch them, so nobody except big-ticket sponsors are buying. But what do I know about the television industry?

p.s. Just taking a few days away from the news really reinforces the absurd quality that headlines have taken on in the past 402 days. Try it if you haven’t.

About that Patreon fee change…

This post originally appeared on my Patreon.

I didn’t understand the significance of the email I received from Patreon about fee changes at first. It was written in that shallowly friendly tone that customer-facing tech companies have nearly universally adopted as their style guide, that regardless of its actual content aims to disarm you. It took until I read Jimmy Maher’s explanation that I saw what was afoot. It’s a one-two punch.

First, patrons will pay the transaction fees for their pledges instead of the burden being shared between myself and Patreon. I can see arguments both for and against making this change. Personally, I always looked at the fees as the cost of doing business here. I certainly wasn’t losing sleep over them.

Second, patrons will be charged fees on each individual pledge, not on every credit card charge. These fees no longer have a direct connection to payment processing fees. They’re essentially Patreon turning up the revenue knob.

Patrons who spread their pledges wide-but-thin will feel the pain the most. About 60% of my patrons pledge $1. Already, I have seen one person cancelling their pledge. I wonder how many others will do so once the change goes into effect on the 18th.

I am not sure what I’m going to do. Right now, I am considering my options carefully. I had actually been thinking of adding reward tiers to this Patreon, and had been brainstorming what those could be in the context of open-source development. But now I am not sure where this will end up. I want you to know that I’m thinking about it, however, and I would like to hear your thoughts on the change in the comments. Am I overreacting? Should I think about changing something about my Patreon?

I’ll close with a thank-you to everyone who has supported my work on Twine, whether it’s been with money, an appreciative tweet or comment, or a contribution of code or documentation. What I find most gratifying about Twine is the impact it has had and continues to have. I am so happy that so many of you have made wonderful things with it.

Edit: Natalie Luhrs has posted a deep dive on the numbers involved.

Observations on Mosaic

After trying out Steven Soderbergh’s interactive movie Mosaic, I was surprised to find that there are very few reviews of it online, only puff pieces promoting it before it was released. So, some observations.

First, although nearly every piece in the press describes it as in the vein of Choose Your Own Adventure, Mosaic is not a CYOA. It’s a movie that allows you to leap between points of view as you move through the story, with additional segments and background documents revealed as you progress. You can move backwards chronologically as much as you’d like, but you may only plod forward in time– so as not to spoil the surprises of the story, I would guess.

Another way to look at it: if Mosaic was a written work, we’d comfortably call it hypertext. I think the reason for the Choose Your Own Adventure comparison is that it’s the one thing the mainstream press understands is a form of narrative that requires reader participation to progress– that isn’t a video game, anyhow. I suspect no one is brave enough to compare Mosaic to a video game to Soderbergh’s face.

I don’t understand exactly why, but Mosaic is being released as both interactive app (on iOS) and linear TV series (on HBO). It seems extraordinarily challenging to design a narrative that will work in both contexts, and perhaps that’s why despite Mosaic holding my interest as I watched it, I came away a little disappointed. As I watched the final scenes (unlike many hypertexts, there really is a dénouement), I thought: “I guess we are wrapping it up here?”

I believe I am paraphrasing someone, though I can’t exactly place who right now, when I write that the two main problems hypertext readers have to grapple with are:

  1. Where am I in the story?
  2. Am I done reading?

So as a debut work of interactive narrative, it is not surprising that Mosaic ran headlong into problem #2. Mosaic‘s ending is a bit Chinatown, so part of it was that I felt emotionally unsatisfied–but more than that, I wished that there was more there there. The digressions provide more explanation behind some of the actions of the characters, but they felt like browsing the appendices of a book, and not the cool kind of appendices. You also don’t have to do anything to unlock the extra video segments, so there isn’t much of a thrill of discovery. Maybe if Mosaic didn’t wrap up all the loose ends I saw, left some mystery for me to untangle, I would’ve found the extra material more engaging.

The story itself? Interesting in parts, cliché in others. I found Joel’s segments the most interesting, but I hesitated a bit even there. He’s depicted as suffering from mental illness, and though I am far from an expert on these things, as I spent more time in his perspective it began to feel like a cartoony, larger-than-life version of mental illness. He also commits nearly every clichéd action a person in his position should never do. You’ll understand what I mean when you get there.

I think the most daring part of Mosaic is that most video segments are 20 minutes or longer–which sounds like damning with faint praise, doesn’t it? But I think it worked. It gave me space to get comfortable and slip into a reflective state of mind instead of an active one (the kind you need to play, say– a video game).

Mosaic also requires you to set up an account to experience it, but all it’s ever done with it is email me a few days after I finished the storyline to remind me, a little pedantically, that there was to more look at. I opened the app again, but nothing seemed different–it was just a stack of videos that would elaborate on, but not transform what I had already seen.

p.s. It is always sort of funny to see James Ransone onscreen. He and I went to high school together–he was a friend-of-a-friend–so I have a strange, asymmetrical familiarity with his face.