Once upon a time, I was not very political. Those times, naturally, are over.
In 2016, I volunteered my time to do some phone banking. It did not go well. They were probably the most ineffectual hours spent by anyone with a phone, ever, and I’m including that time I left a message on an answering machine asking a girl to the junior prom. (Yeah, I had game. Why do you ask?)
The phone banking consisted of calling people of my preferred political party in swing states. And in 2016, people in swing states were absolutely deluged in calls. I heard answering machine messages saying “We’re not at home right now. If this is a political call, hang up and cross us off your list.” Every voter I reached said “I’m already ready to vote, our family has a plan,” with the exception of one person who went Green Party. I changed no minds. The best thing I did was update the registry so that no one else on the team wasted their time calling a dead number.
This year, I’m trying something different. I signed up with Vote Forward to see if I could get some use out of this writing thing I’m supposed to be good at. Their theory is that since no one gets hand-written letters any more, the average voter would be curious to see one in the mail and open it. Inside is a handwritten letter encouraging the reader to have a plan to vote.
I should be clear that there’s some hard data on this from previous elections. The best way to get someone to vote, bar none, is to volunteer to knock on doors, talk to someone, and leave literature: it’s got a conversion rate of about 20%. But if you don’t live in a swing state, that option’s not going to score your team many voters where it matters. Letter-writing like this has about a 3% rate — which is much higher than ads for clicks.
The process is pretty simple. You log in to the database of voters, click “Adopt Voters” from swingable states in batches of 5 or 20. (The “adoption” process is so nobody duplicates your work.) Then, you download and print the names, and write your letters. Vote Forward gives you a return address that matches their in-state field offices, so you aren’t telling complete strangers where you live. Download the form letters, add your personal message (no issues, no specific candidates, just encourage them to vote), and fold it up in the hand-written envelope. Then you add a stamp that you bought (think of it as supporting the Postal Service).
Then you hold on to the letters and send them on the date that’s optimized for voter action and retention.
It takes about two hours for me to bust through 20 letters from download to final product. I did 20 a day, and at the end of my first week… behold!
That’s a hundred envelopes, or, if the ratio is about right, three voters in swing states. It doesn’t sound like much, but before this, my vote would have zero influence on the election. That’s just how my state works in the Electoral College. When people on Facebook say “Vote!” after whatever bad news comes their way, I can say “Not only did I vote, I brought three friends!”
Will it make a difference? I don’t know. But I feel a hell of a lot less helpless. And maybe, if enough of us more-than-triple our impact like this, we can get better leaders. The site says they have more than 100,000 volunteers, and their goal for letters is in the millions.
Those of you who’ve been following my progress over the past
few months may know that I’m back to doing freelance writing, which is another
way of saying “I’m unemployed… except when I’m not.”
Looking for work is, of course, a full-time job for a
writer. My days are spent Googling “narrative designer,” and typing
up customized cover letters for submission along with my resume. Every now and
then I’ll get a bite and they’ll ask me to do a writing test, which takes
anywhere from one to seven days of work. Sometimes, I’m familiar with the game
company, and have played all their games. Sometimes, I have to jump in with
both feet and learn on the fly. While I like to think I can learn a new
franchise in a very short amount of time, the reality of this renaissance of
nerd-dom we live in is that there are too many properties to keep up with
For example, like many nerds, I played tabletop Dungeons & Dragons. But if a job opportunity pops up at Wizards of the Coast, the interview questions will be more like “What are your opinions on how to improve the Eberron campaign setting, and where do you see it going in the next five years?” Then I’ll switch gears to mobile games, where the test will be about Stardew Valley or maybe an interactive romance novel like Choices, and the next day it’ll be back to a real-time strategy series, asking me to write in the voice of generals of the Napoleonic Wars.
I can do these things. The sticking point is, can I do them faster, cheaper, or with more panache than whoever else is applying? Can I Skype with the employer at 11:00 at night because they’re on Beijing time? Am I disabled or a veteran? Can I speak Korean?
So that’s my day-to-day now. In between job applications, I play games to try to keep current on them. At night, I polish short stories, because, like I said elsewhere in this blog, I’m trying to sell them to fund a sequel to Civil Blood. I’ve polished the I.T.-expert-to-the-superheroes story (“The Needs of the Client”) and submitted it. The next in line, “Give a Little, Get a Little,” is in the queue for critiques through my writing workshop. Progress is slow, but measurable.
And then… there’s the game I love the most. The one that’s back from the dead.
The thing that really was the cherry on top to the old MMO City of Heroes was the fact that you could write up a biography of your hero and other players would see it. It was totally optional, but if you wanted to say you’re a time-traveling hawk-man wielding Excalibur, teaming up with a sapient crash test dummy, you could do it. And after around four or five years into the game, they came up with the Mission Architect, where players could create their own adventures, and have other players run through them.
I actually never got super into the Mission Architect when the game was live, because it was a rabbit hole you could be inside forever. I was writing for Bioware, getting my kiddo through toilet training, and the other players were cranking out great content already. There was one arc where you battled the Phantom of the Opera in the sewers beneath the Paris opera house. Another had archvillains inspired by the major arcana of tarot cards. And of course there was the “Visit from the Fashion Police” adventure, where you fought the Fashion Victims gang, wearing the ugliest, most clashing clothes that the costume creator could possibly make.
My contribution was a humorous single-episode mission called “Economic Recovery Through Fisticuffs,” in which you find the perpetrators of the 2008 financial crisis as they escape on a cargo liner bound for Antigua, and punch them in the face. The minions had names like “Short Seller” (they were 4′ tall), “Economic Shock Doctor” (electricity powers), and bikini-clad socialites called “Somebody Else’s Wife,” because, in the words of a CIA agent I once met, “who sells out their country and jets off to an island with their OWN wife?”
Now that I’m revisiting the game (it came back in 2019), I decided to put in some time designing a story arc. I figured it’d be good for my game design skills, though honestly, it’s unlikely an employer would ever see it. While a core group of fans love the game, the chance that a particular dev has sought out the new version, downloaded it, has an appropriate-level character, and would play all the way through the 5-mission arc is ridiculously low. But it’s a fun challenge, and I’m happy to share the story.
The arc is called “Dr. Aeon and the Wrath of Achilles.” I created it because there’s a ton of players who make Greek and Roman superheroes now, and there’s a lot of good costume and powerset combos for them. And, of course, as readers of Mythkillers know, I’ve got an obsession with the Trojan War. So I thought a little time travel could be fun.
The players are summoned by Mender Lazarus, one of the guardians of the time stream, who says the balance of power in the player’s timeline is, was, or will be upset. Dr. Aeon, the chrononaut mad scientist for City of Heroes‘ premier villains, Arachnos, has broken into Paragon City University. There, he kidnapped a classics professor, and went back in time to the Bronze Age, to interfere in the course of the Trojan War. Why is he siding with the Trojans and assailing the Greeks with his high-tech weaponry? Therein lies the mystery.
What follows is a lot of fighting, because hey, it’s an MMO. You beat up everything from Trojan soldiers and Amazon princesses to a river god and super-soldiers with mechanical spider legs coming off their back like Doctor Octopus’s tentacles. I’m not actually allowed to post video from COH to YouTube, because you’re not allowed to make ad revenue on the game for legal reasons. But I will post some relatively-spoiler-free screenshots.
This is the university hallway for the first mission:
Enemies in the basement:
The second adventure has you rescue Greek heroes from Arachnos in the plain of the Troad:
And there’s more! I recreated Achilles’ rampage, with you as the star.
While I won’t reveal the end, I can show off the neatest part of the game, the character creator. There’s about six good power sets for the rank and file soldiers: single sword, single axe, single mace, archery, staff fighting with a two-handed spear, and double blades (either swords or axes). Only the single weapons can be used with a shield, or they can be left alone and paired with more supernatural powers, like flames, regeneration, or Achilles-style invulnerability. So while I can’t get a spear-and-shield combo, I can get a lot of others.
If you’ve made it this far and actually have a City of Heroes (Homecoming) account, the arc is #31899. Just enter that into the search bar at the Architect Entertainment interface, and the arc should be playable.
Now I think I’ll get back to the prose writing, since I’m all burned out on Greeks for the moment. Take care, and let’s save the world this year!