Wednesday, January 30, 2013

10 Ways to Retain Your Player

A long long time ago, before the age of iOS and Android, mobile phone games were pretty crap.

Eight years ago it was a new and growing market and I had tons of fun trying to fit some of the world's biggest game franchises into mobile devices that were about as suitable for gaming as your average microwave. Resident Evil, Need for Speed, Final Fantasy, Project Gotham Racing, Sims - each game genre brought with it new design challenges.

Back then almost all the phone games (that made money) were malformed bastardized versions of current hit console and PC franchises. The hardware was constrained in terms of performance and the clunky phone keys weren't the ideal game controller. Considering these limitations, we made some awesome games back in those days. But if you don't consider those limitations (and why should you), these games were somewhat bleh.

Getting an hour and a half of gameplay for a couple of dollars seemed like good value. In fact, it was an act of mercy, as playing through those games, for the most part, was about as fun as flossing. So it was all about getting the player to finish the game before the "hey look, Resident Evil on my phone" novelty wore off.

Those days are over. Touch screen devices have amazing games. I find myself playing on the iPad more than any other platform. It's not a perfect gaming platform, especially not for games that try to emulate console games, it's the one I'm most excited about both as developer and gamer.

Suddenly getting your customers out the door as fast as you can is no longer necessary.

In fact, keeping players engaged with your game for longer is beneficial for both player and developer. The player develops an emotional attachment to the game and a sense of accomplishment and investment over a long period of time.

For the developer user retention is important for the following reasons:

1. Cross promotion and visibility. Your games can cross-promote each other whenever new games or updates are released, but that is only effective if people are still playing the older games.

2. Most of the revenue in the app store comes from in-app purchases. Monetize your game correctly and wisely and you would have every reason to want people to play your game for as long as possible.

3. Word of mouth. The longer players play your game, the more likely they are to tell others about the game, recruit other players for in-game rewards, blog or tweet about it.

User retention should not be confused with marketing. It's not about getting new players, it's about keeping the players you did get for as long as possible. One of the positive rewards is a boost in marketing, but it is not a marketing strategy in its own right. For example, having an awesome cliffhanger in a TV show is going to ensure many viewers return the next week, but it's not going to get new viewers to tune in right away. On the other hand when people keep hearing how awesome that TV show is, they are more likely to eventually give it a chance.

There are many ways to facilitate user retention. The best one is having a good game underneath it all. Some games are so addictive and fun they don't really need to seduce the player to stick around.

But don't despair even if your game is terrible. Quality is not necessary. Farmville offers practically no gameplay beyond mindless clicking, but it has done a fantastic job hooking players. A bit like a crack-cocaine addiction, only it carries a more devastating social stigma.

Here are super simple ways in which you can increase your game's user retention:

1. Achievements

Achievement whore is a term that was coined for a reason. It can become very addictive to collect these virtual badges with points that mean absolutely nothing to anyone. It's supposedly something that is meant for bragging rights, but in fact nobody in all of existence ever, except you, cares about your gamer score. No one. In fact, the only reason you care about it is because you think others might care too. They don't. Yet, it is still for some reason fun to unlock achievements. Perhaps it is just because people like to feel good about themselves.

Achievements can range from accomplishing extra difficult tasks beyond the main scope of the game - like getting ridiculously high combo in a fighting game, or it can simply reward tedious grinding for performing the same action 1000000 times.

If the achievements strike the player as too difficult or time consuming they are going to give up on them fairly soon, so while it should be a long tunnel, there should always be light at the end. Done correctly achievements can help draw a map for the player that takes them on a longer path through the game.

2. Missions

Missions are similar to achievements, but have a different focus. There are usually only three missions active at one time, replaced with new missions as they are beaten and they almost always reward the player with in-game currency and rewards (coins, experience points, etc.). Missions are especially effective in endless games as having three different active missions changes the focus of the game and adds variety to each session. It is usually accompanied by a progression ladder that gives the game structure it would otherwise lack.

A missions system kept me playing through games like Punch Quest, Zombie Tsunami, Into the Dead and Jetpack Joyride far longer than I would have otherwise.

Into the Dead
3. Upgrades

Upgrades are an artificial way to make the player better at the game. Suddenly you get further and score better, but it's not necessarily because you honed your skills to perfection as much as the fact that you bought in-game upgrades that improve your stats and overall make the game easier. Why bother trying to shoot a duck with a small gun when you can use a heat seeking rocket launcher instead? Or a nuclear bomb? The player needs to invest a significant amount of time to grind all the currency needed to buy all the upgrades. This is also a good opportunity for monetization as you can offer lazy players a shortcut and offer the upgrades faster for real world money.

Upgrading is a basic concept lifted from the Role Playing genre and tweaked to fit more casual games, especially endless games. Together with the missions system, it's another way to offer a sense of progression and development when you're in fact still playing the same two minutes over and over again.

Two games with very addictive upgrade systems are the endless runners One Epic Knight and Jetpack Joyride.

One Epic Knight
Jetpack Joyride
4. Daily Rewards

Tempt your players to log into your game at least once a day. They might not even play the game beyond loading it and claiming the rewards, but it's a great opportunity to flash any news about upcoming updates or perhaps other games you're about to release - or just flash obnoxious ads in their face. You grab the player's attention for a few priceless seconds, so you had better put it to good use.

The problem with rewards is that if you give the players too much you break your virtual economy and if you give them too little you insult their intelligence (it's worrying how many games do the latter and actually get away with it). A good solution is to create a growing reward ladder that increases every consecutive day of logging in, or alternatively offer the player a scratch card with a good chance of winning something substantial - harmlessly scratching the gambling itch at the same time.

Snoopy's Street Fair rewards you with a generous portion of deluxe currency every five days, but only if you keep logging every day.

5. Come Back or the Puppy Dies

Why lure players back with the promise of rewards when you can do it with the threat of punishment? If the player doesn't log in regularly their crop will wither, their pets will die an agonizing death, their wife will leave them and take the kids, their fortress will be invaded and burnt to the ground and all the toilet paper will be used up.

"My fake veggies have withered... :-("
If your game succeeds in compelling the player to visit on an hourly basis, giving up on their social life, responsibilities and sleep, you are going to be a very rich person.

Though a lot of good all that money is going to do you in HELL.

6. Regular Updates

Once you train your players to expect regular updates, they will look forward to them. Many times players like a game, but they have no idea if the developer is still supporting it.

There are clever ways to let players know that new content is on the way. 1000 Heroz promised players a new level every day for 1000 days until the whole game was released. Angry Birds Rio had empty place holders for future content with a date on each spot telling the players when to expect it.

Angry Birds Rio
7. Seasonal Content

Seasonal content puts people in a festive mood, but also has a delightful sense of urgency to it as it offers unique rewards that expire when the holiday ends until the same time next year. So for a short period of time players are urged to play your game more to ensure they don't miss out on limited time rewards. The rewards are usually cosmetic, which doesn't make them any less rewarding to the target audience that is obsessed with collecting and showing off their virtual items.

And don't forget to update the app's icon to reflect the holiday by sticking a Christmas hat or a jack-o-lantern on it. All the cool kids are doing it, so it must be the thing to do.

Reflecting current holidays and seasons also tells the player that the game is currently being supported by the development team. Just remember to remove the Christmas decorations by March or the whole thing will backfire.

8. Community

This one is a tricky one to pull off and must be tailored to the type of game you have. It can be a lot of work which does not always recoup the time and effort invested, so tread carefully.

Does your game allow your players to show their creativity? Can they share their cleverness with other players?

My Singing Monsters invited users to send clips of them singing different parts and then assembled it into a silly little video.

My Singing Monsters

Carmageddon lets players record themselves flattening pedestrians and crashing into other cars and then upload the videos directly to Youtube.

Carmageddon iOS

Snoopy's Street Fair provides you with a photo booth in which you can take pictures with Snoopy characters.
Snoopy's Street Fair

Other games capitalize on the fact that they offer complex gameplay and provide players with forums in which they can discuss strategy and exchange tips.

9 collectibles

Collectibles  could be done cleverly, intelligently rewarding exploration and time investment, or they could be a half assed throwaway. In both cases it's likely to get players to play the game a bit longer than they would otherwise.

If your game world is bland and badly designed adding collectibles for the player to collect is basically just twisting the knife. Looking for hidden treasures in Aquaria is rewarding because it is already fun to explore that beautiful world.

Crackdown is an immensely repetitive and average 3rd person shooter that is saved by a side mission to find hidden orbs. Scaling the environments in search for audio and visual hints for orb locations is some of the most fun I ever had in a videogame.

10. Replayability

If your game is fun people are likely to play through it again. This can be further encouraged by adding more layers of complexity to the game. Offer additional side challenges, offer a medal system that encourages to beat the same challenges with better scores. Unlock hidden harder levels. This is the user retention technique with the best nutritional value that veteran gamers will really appreciate. It only works if your game is good enough and fun enough to justify a return visit.

But seriously, none of these techniques are an alternative to having a good game. There are enough crap games out there. Not all of the listed user retention methods might suit your game, so don't bend backwards like a pretzel trying to fit them in. But give it a thought and see which ones make sense for your game.

That's it for user retention. Next week we'll discuss water retention.

(not really)


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Friday, June 08, 2012

Blake Version 4.0

Blake turned four two weeks ago.

It still hasn't quite sank in. For some reason the first three birthdays weren't such a big deal, but the fourth one caught me by surprise. I used to jokingly refer to Blake as "half-baby", but that is no longer the case.

He really is a little human being with opinions, demands, preferences and hobbies. I think the big thing that changed is the fact that he is now at an age which I have memories of my own childhood. Sure, I don't remember everything from the time I was four, but the few memories I do have are vivid, like a sitcom's clipshow featuring the best moments from past episodes.

I remember getting a Mickey Mouse ice lolly which I thought was beautiful and I licked it very carefully to maintain the Mickey Mouse shape. It was a beautiful, colourful ice sculpture. Then I licked off one of the ears and burst into tears. I remember the enormity of my sadness. And I remember deciding to try out my new sneakers by kicking one of the older kids really hard - the kicking was good! I remember getting lost in a theme park, ruining the day for all three families as everyone were looking for me for hours.

And I remember the excitement when my dad used to come home from work. The jingle of his keys in the door and our dog Bobby barking as we ran to the door to welcome him: my brother, me and Bobby. I remember how it felt to hug my dad as a little boy, feeling his shirt against my face. We'd then proceed to loot my dad's lunchtime treats which he kept for us every day: a bottle of malt beer and a chocolate bar which we promptly took to the kitchen to divide. My brother would obsess about dividing things equally, measuring everything with rocket engineering precision.

And now I am the dad who is coming home. It's my keys that jingle in the door to alert the dogs and I am the one who is now welcomed every day by a trio of cuties: Blake, Leo and Dexter. And while I don't bring with me any treats, Blake steals my Iconia (iPad for poor people) so he could play his favourite games on it.

It hit it me that this is going to be a childhood memory for him years from now when I'll be long gone. If I think about it too much my brain will melt.

It's all good. 

On a side note, Blake has also started playing games properly. If before he just enjoyed interacting with things randomaly, now he's actually trying to figure out the rules of the games and win. His favourite at the moment is undoubtedly Running Fred and he's pretty good at it. Check out how he times his jumps and double jumps like a pro.

I'm so proud. I'll be even prouder when he starts kicking my ass.

On another side note, a sider note, Blake is also obsessed with planets. It started with the moon and expanded to the entire solar system. Saturn is particularly liked. So we got Blake a solar system model for his birthday. As you can see, he is fairly fond of it.


Saturday, May 05, 2012

Gayianitism : The Religion of Fab

Christian protesters at London gay pride 2006
The biggest obstacle to gay rights is religion. There is no question about it. There are many religious people who are against gays and more often than not these people think that not letting them discriminate against gays is an infringement on their right to practice their religion and worship their God.

I'll repeat myself for those sitting at the back: some people actually think that it's OK for them to hate and discriminate against gays and at the same time be themselves immune to any form of criticism because the right to practice a religion is protected. Apparently.

With the excuse of religion gay people are constantly oppressed and killed. Are gay people killing religious people? Are gay people campaigning to revoke the right of religious people to marry? Are gay people trying to force religious people to abandon their faith or convert? Not really. Yet many religious people have the audacity to play the victims in the battle for equal rights. 

Annoyed? Very much.

So I propose my solution. The only way to fight the faith criticism shield is to establish homosexuality as a religion. Yes, it's a ridiculous concept, but then again all religion is ridiculous. We can do it.

It seems that the biggest difference between a "cult" and a "religion" is how big it is and how long it has been around, so the first few years are going to be difficult, but we should brave through them. Just look at Scientology: they're fairly new, have to deal with a lot of unfair crap (they aren't more ridiculous or dangerous than any other religion after all) and yet not only are they still around, they are also championed by an impressive a-list celebrity roster.

Needless to say that means that phase 1 will include reaching out to the biggest gay celebrities and recruiting them early: Ellen DeGeneres, Stephen Fry, Neil Patrick Harris, Ian McKellen, Rosie O'Donnell, Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper, Elton John, Tom Cruise - all of them. We need them to go out there and start spreading the word.

Obviously we'd need a word to spread first. So here it goes:

Our deity is called Gosh, so when we want to be all spiritual we say "oh my Gosh" and gently place our right hand on our right cheek to indicate our awe. It works.

We need a bullshit origin story. The whole Jesus-died-for-your-sins story is probably the most successful so we shouldn't veer from that too much. You know what they say: Don't mess with the classics. If it ain't brokeback don't mount it.  Maybe not very original, but considering that Christianity ripped off tons of pagan traditions and got away with it that shouldn't be a problem. 

As for a Jesus figure we are spoilt for choice. We have a huge selection of gay people who were murdered brutally: Matthew Shepard or Harvey Milk are great iconic choices, but we have essentially an endless and ever-growing list of candidates.

Our holy symbol will be the pink triangle and we can even make a triangle sign by touching each shoulder and then the groin. I love it!

Straight people are welcome to convert, but once converted they must have a lot of gay sex whether they like it or not because it says you should in our yet to be written holy book, the Buttble. So you just do what the book says because.

Once we establish our religion we'll enjoy great tax breaks, but also be able to hold our ground in arguments against people of other faiths. Rather than use arguments based on common sense, compassion and integrity, we could just flail our arms hysterically and thump some holy book.

We fight for the rights of gays to get married not because it's the decent thing to do, but because there is a quote about it in an old book. You'd be surprised how much more effective this type of argument will be in some circles.

We can still carry on using the  rational and intelligent gay rights strategy where it works. It certainly does work on occasion but on many others it simply doesn't. And when it comes to ignorant idol-worshipping lemmings we simply bring it down to a level they understand by speaking their language.

I'm not quite sure how to get this thing started and will appreciate any help in the matter. Maybe a Kickstarter project? I know it's going to be a long and challenging uphill battle to get this religion going, but some suffering will add an edge of authenticity.

Dibs on the Pope job.

Let's do it. 

May Gosh be with you.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mom's The Word?

There is something that bothers me as a father. Not as a gay father - I'm sure it would have annoyed me even if I was married to a woman. It's not something that makes me lose sleep or want to punch a hole in the wall, but it bothers me nonetheless.

It's hard to avoid it, it's everyhwhere: magazines, blogs, advertisements. It seems as if mothers are somehow considered to be "more parents" than fathers.

A certain food product is the "choice of mothers", because we all know fathers are incapable of choosing anything in the supermarket other than their favourite beer brand. An article discusses the pros and cons for a mother to go back to full time work, because it is an indisputable fact that fathers must get back to work two weeks after the birth of their child - there's not even a question about it. 

Back in London when I was hanging out with a much younger Blake I did get occasional comments along the lines of "are you babysitting today?" and "Mommy has the day off today?" Because it's so rare and unnatural for a father to spend time with a very young child...

Now I can see how this view can bother some feminists (I say some, as I consider myself to be one). We live in an undeniably patriarchal society where women suffer from many forms of discrimination, so on top of everything I now come and demand to take their sacred motherhood status away.

I'm sorry, but just as it's wrong for a man to get paid more for doing the same job as a woman just because he has a penis, it's also wrong to assume someone can be a more nurturing parent just because they have a vagina. If you are a good parent take pride in that and don't bring your gender into it. 

You might argue that it's biological: mothers carry their children inside them for nine months. The babies grow inside them, literally starting out as part of them. Then they bond intimately over breast feeding. 

That is awesome and I can't dismiss that unique connection between mother and child. I'm even a bit jealous. But what does it mean, really? Are we saying that mothers who adopt, use surrogacy or choose not to breastfeed are somehow second rate mothers? And in the long run how much do pregnancy and breastfeeding weigh against actually spending 18 years raising your child, nurturing and guiding them into adulthood? 

I'll close with the story of Patrick Henry Hughes and his dedicated father, who makes us all look bad with his amount of dedication to his child. His personal sacrifices and love make him a great parent, not his gender.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Introducing Fowl Moon

I'm trying out a new blog that focuses on videogame development (that's what I do for a living in case you don't know). First post just went up. Check it out if you're into games!


Thursday, March 08, 2012

Canada's South Park

Ah, bless you, people of Altona, Manitboa. Just when I complain about a lack of inspiration to write, you bunch of neandrethal, knuckle-dragging, bible-thumping block heads give me something to write about.

First let me clarify: not all of the people of Altona are like that. Obviously the fact that there is a conflict is a sign that there are plenty of good and loving people in Altona, religious and otherwise, but they have lost the current round in the battle for human rights. As it is now, Altona is shaping up to become Manitoba's own little South Park.

Quick summary of my previous post on this issue: A couple of grade 4-6 teachers placed cards of support for LGBT rights, which I thought was awesome and wished some of my teachers did it when I was a kid. In response a bunch of overly religious parents protested and demanded that the cards will be removed so they could ensure that their children will grow up to be ignorant homophobes like their parents.

Well, now they won

While the school originally backed their teachers, they now decided to remove the cards altogether and instead issue a generic anti-bullying program. Why on earth did they not have an anti-bullying program already in place is a different matter, but the results of its absence are already quite evident by the way some of the parents turned out.

Here is the thing though: in Canada the fight for gay rights has already concluded with a sweeping victory for human rights. This is why I chose to move here with my family. There are some small battles still being waged across the land by pockets of insurgents, but it's only a matter of time before they'll seep underground to the same dark place racism now resides in.

The parents' main false argument was that "their children are too young to learn about sex and especially about different sexual orientations."

It's a weak argument for the following reasons:

1. Kids start learning about sex from the first time they touch their sex organs and wonder what they are for. 

2. It's best to make sure kids learn the correct information - and on time. Children need to find out about sex before it's an issue, not after the fact. Same with all forms of bigotry: you don't just try to combat it, you should do your best to prevent it from ever manifesting.

3. Teaching kids about homosexuality is not the same as teaching them about sex. Kids understand the concept of couples: mommy and daddy, grandma and grandpa, uncle and aunty -  etc.. You just teach them that some couples can be two boys or two girls and they love each other just the same way. The end! 

See how I magically went through the explanation without talking about butt-sex? I'm a wizard with words.


Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Slow News Year

I haven't been writing too much this year, mostly to avoid repetition and writing posts that are too similar to previous ones. Leo is still limping, Blake is still incredibly adorable, Winnipeg is still cold but awesome and there are plenty of homophobes out there in the world being idiots. Cut and paste. The downside of having a blissfully boring life is that it doesn't make for exciting blog writing.

So here's a photo of Blake and sled, his daily commute to his nursery school. Hopefully this will do until inspiration strikes again.


Friday, February 17, 2012

13 Legs

Poor Leo.

Two weeks ago Leo started limping. This has immediately got us worried. The last time Leo limped  it required an operation to repair the cruciate of the left stifle that was fortunately covered by the insurance. Since then his leg has been excluded from any future insurance plans which would mean having to pay for it out of pocket which might be impractical - especially considering Leo's creeping age and the inevitable future complications.

An X-Ray of Leo's Bionic Leg from late 2010
So the first thought that crossed our minds when we saw Leo limping was the possibility of putting him down, right around the 3rd anniversary of losing our first Great Dane, Dexter's predecessor, Kato. 

It was not the most cheerful thought, but before we get to it, we'll need to go a few days before Leo started limping. If TV shows and movies can use the cheap trick of tedious flashbacks and flash-forwards to grasp the audience's attention, then so can I.


Leo and Dexter have really settled in their new Winnipeg home. The family room downstairs has become the dog room where they spend a lot of the time napping. Blake also uses it to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and even Miron and I occasionally insert ourselves for some quality Judge Judy viewing. One of the smaller rooms in the house, but when we are all together in it (Judge Judy included), also the funnest and happiest.

A new routine we introduced a few weeks ago is the Sunday outing for the dogs. After Blake's swimming lesson we'd go back home, stick the dogs in the back and drive them somewhere outside of town where they can run freely and stretch their legs. Even at the coldest weather it's doable as long as they are back in the car before they freeze solid into massive dogsicles. Dexter really needs those bursts of unrestrained sprints. The first time he ran so quickly and so far I thought we would never see him again. Fortunately he did come back to us after completing a lap around planet Earth. Dexter puts Leo to shame, but on his own Leo's fitness is very impressive for a 6 1/2 year old Great Dane with a bionic leg.

While there are two dog beds on the floor of the family room, Leo also enjoys lying on the sofa bed whenever he can. As a result it's very common to see Blake and Leo together on the sofa refining their cuddle techniques while watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

Meanwhile Dexter is... Dexter.

Anyway, so then on Friday night two weeks ago Leo started limping and we got very worried. What could it be? Our biggest worry was that the same cruciate thing happened to his other hind leg. We were warned it may happen: after one leg has been operated on the healthy leg would be used more and be at increased risk. Then we realized that it can't be the same thing as Leo was limping on his bad leg that was already been operated on, not the healthy one. It was a medical mystery worthy of Doctor Gregory House.

Miron and I pooled together our veterinary medical knowledge in order to solve the mystery which resulted in not solving the mystery due to us having zero medical knowledge.

Blake has detected that his buddy was misreable and commenced unprompted to cuddle with him on the floor, a gesture that didn't go unappreciated.

Poor Leo peed on one of the beds which needed to be washed, so when Dexter cuddled with him they had to share one tiny bed between them.

There were many cuddles for the next week as we hoped to see improvement. I spent the first two nights in the family room to keep Leo company. We were afraid to go to the vet and get terrible news. Then each day Leo's leg got better and he started using it more and more. By Tuesday he was actually placing weight on it and his limp was barely noticeable. I had other worries on my mind, so it was such a relief to get rid of one. Leo was going to be OK after all!

Only he wasn't. The next day his leg was bad again - as bad as it ever was. 

The Doctor House type mystery evolved: it couldn't be a broken leg or even a fructure: these things don't heal so quickly only to happen all over again. I wondered if it was maybe the cold making the metal in his leg painful. There were a few very cold days the previous week. We decided to keep Leo's visits to the back yard super short and infrequent.

Last Friday night we had our first overnight guest in our Winnipeg home and we went with him to a dinner party with friends. When we came back home Leo made extreme efforts to go up with us to the bedroom. The next morning on Saturday Leo could not get up no matter how much I asked, begged and commanded him.

We decided to take him to the vet, if only to get him some pain killers. By the time we made the appointment and started discussing ways to bring him down to the car, Leo has gotten up and almost ran downstairs to pee as he was bursting.

Obviously we had to take everyone, including Dexter who refused to stay in the car once we got to the vet, so we all went in. Leo went with Miron to be X-rayed and examined while I waited in a small examination room with Dexter and Blake. There were no signs of broken bones or fractures, but some arthritis around his bad leg and plenty of swolen inflammation. When Leo returned to our room, he stumbled and fell flat on his belly. He considered for a second to try and get up, but then was all "f*** it, I meant to do that" and remained lying down. You see, Leo was on injected morphine and was slowly succumbing to sweet dreams about rainbows and unicorns.  

We got his antibiotics for the infection (for that is what it apparently was)  and pain killers and some human treatment for arthritis. When we got home it was a struggle to take Leo out of the car. He lay at the back and looked at me with big empty cow eyes. He was tripping in another dimension already. I wanted some of what he was having...

So now we wait, a bit worried, to see if he'll get back to using his leg. He is getting lots of rest and cuddles, as well as getting better at using only three legs, but I sure do hope it's not permanent, as I don't see him managing to survive like that for long and it certainly means no more Sunday runs in the prairie for the time being.

Poor Dexter has been quite confused and worried and also somewhat jealous at the extra attention his brother has been getting. So he's been cranking up the cute. Picture evidence:

Sir Fartalot in his library.
Gaining knowledge by sleeping on a book shelf.
Leo plays Rear Window


Thursday, February 09, 2012

One Million Morons : The Sequel

I bashed the idiots at One Million Moms two months ago, before it was cool. Now everyone is doing it thanks to their new campaign against JC Penny for hiring Ellen DeGeneres as their new spokeperson. I'm such a trend setter.

One Million Moms is an offshoot of American Family Association, an extreme right religious organization that attempts to promote their bigotry under the pretense of "family values". That's really all you need to know about them - and once you do why does anyone need to pay them any attention anymore?

Their efforts to get Ellen DeGeneres fired shouldn't get any headlines, just dismissed with a shrug because it is really such a non issue. Yet most news coverage of this incident refers to it as a "controversy". Where is the controversy? The fact that a gay woman was hired as a spokesperson or the fact that it annoyed the crap out of a group of ignorant lunatics?

Watch this CBS video to see the reactions of Ellen and the JC Penny CEO. Notice how every other word out of the interviewer's mouth is "controversy". Derpa-derp-derp-derpalooza.

Whatevs. Haters gonna hate, bigots gonna baguette. This "controversy" got me to revisit the One Million Moms website to see if it was still as ugly as I remembered it and I saw that one of their ongoing campaigns is against the show Modern Family. Well, obviously.

I thought I'd find them protesting the portrayal of two men who enjoy dirty and ungodly anal and oral sex with each other while raising a child in an obviously unfit environment. No, it gets better! They were protesting the subplot in which the couple's little toddler curses using the F word.


This kind of ridiculousness and ignorance is comforting. It's always good to know thy enemy and it's even better to know thy enemy is an absolute idiot.



I'm more than happy to protest against Modern Family as long as we focus our attention where it matters: It used to be the funniest thing on TV, but now if I want to laugh while watching it I need to simultaneously browse funny pictures on my phone.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Story Time - Blake and the Balloons

Putting Blake to sleep used to involve singing. More often than not "Part of Your World" from Disney's The Little Mermaid and sometime Rebecca Black's Friday. And when I say singing I mean ME doing the singing.

I kid you not. I wish I was.

More often than not singing once wasn't enough and I had to sing three or four times.

So you can imagine how relieved I was when Blake was finally more into stories. I would sit with him in the dark and make up stories about him and the rest of the family using story elements I knew he was into at the moment. There was a lot of random crap, but every once in a while a favourite story was born and stuck around. Now there are three regular stories I occasionally switch between, but the golden classic is undoubtedly "Blake and the Balloons."

So I decided to record it on video in case I'll get hit by a bus or be crashed to death by a falling satellite. It's not really about me or the story, it's about Blake who makes it so much fun to tell him stories.

Love you, son!


Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Audacity of Promoting Equality

Something nice happened in Altona, Manitoba, a small town not too far from Winnipeg: two grade five teachers displayed a card pledging support for LGBT youth.

The cards read:

As an Ally, I envision a society that embraces, values and celebrates diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.

As an Ally, I support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, Two-Spirit, intersex, queer and questioning individuals, families and communities.

As an Ally, I work towards a more aware, affirming, safe and open work environment in both policy and practice.

As an Ally, I acknowledge that creating a safe space is an unwavering process that requires productive commitment, re-assessment and dedication.

As an Ally, I am committed to the elimination of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and heterosexism as well as other forms of oppression.

I participated a Rainbow Resource Centre LGBTT* Ally Training session and completed ___ hours of training in the year.

Awww, how sweet.

That's why I love Canada. At grade 5 I already knew I was gay, but it was a shameful secret burried so deep that I didn't even entertain the thought of ever making it known to anyone. I am so happy that today young gay people, at least in Canada, have it better than I did.

I wish that would be the end of the anecdote, but it turned out that numerous parents were offended by the cards and demanded their removal. They were partly successful as the cards are now hidden with the exception of the title.

“We have to sign hundreds of petitions to allow religious exercises in school,We should treat this situation in the same way, as it seems to be just as controversial.” Said parent Kim Peters Sawatzky.

I found Kim's Facebook page with quick Google-Fu and discovered she only likes one book. Guess which one. Hint number one: It's NOT A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. Hint number two: It starts with a "B" and rhymes with libel.

So dear Kim, let me please explain to you why you are wrong.

The problem with teaching religion in school (other than the fact that all religions are man written fairy tales and there is no God) is that it's indoctrination. Not all the children in the classroom are Christians. Some belong to other religions or none at all. I am sure dear Kim wouldn't want her children to be taught Islam lessons. On the other hand it's perfectly fine to discuss different religions in class and teach children that anyone deserves respect and the freedom to practice whatever religion they want.

No one is trying to indoctrinate children to be gay. The only thing the card does is teach children to be open minded towards LGBT people and not discriminate against them. The thing is, unlike many countries including the USA, in Canada it's the law. Gay people have 100% equal rights, so any cards like the one mentioned should be considered a polite notice, not an actual request. We are way past that point. In Canada at least.

Kim Peters Sawatzky also said: “I would like to have the choice of how I choose to teach my children about these words and what they mean."

Translation: "I would like to have the choice of how I choose to teach my children that God hates gay people and that they are gross, derp."

Well, tough luck, lady. You might also want to teach your children that black people like decorating the walls of their homes with the intestines of giraffes, that Jews grind their own toenails and use the powder in most of their cuisine and that Muslims are actually demons wearing people-suits made out of latex. You can teach your children any type of nonsense you want, but you won't necessarily be doing them any favours. You certainly can't expect the system to bend backwards to accomodate your prejudiced, ignorant and bigoted "values". You can always relocate to a country that shares these "values" or maybe start your own colony in some far away rain forest. I can only hope that Kim's children, considering that they are growing up in Canada, will mature into more tolerant and accepting human beings.

Another parent, Rachael Friesen, pretty much nails it: "The kids are hearing some pretty crazy stuff on the playground and we have no control over that. All we can do is damage control, so I’m not understanding why a teacher can’t answer a question without everyone freaking out."

Regardless, we're moving in the right direction. Twenty years ago teachers educating children about LGTB rights would seem like science fiction. Since then Religion has been kicked out of the classroom and now teachers are actually trying to actively educate children to be accepting of LGBT people and the action is met with nothing more than feeble mixed reactions by parents.  The parents objecting are just remnants from darker times. In twenty years not only displaying these types of cards won't be a big deal, it's probably not even going to be really necessary. 

At least in Canada.

One can hope, anyway.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

14 Legs Worth of Love

Us with Justice James MacPherson at Osgoode Hall, Toronto

Today is our fourth wedding anniversary. It's more impressive when you take into account that gay-relationship years are like dog years and should be multiplied by seven. So it's like our twenty eighth anniversary. 

Actually, we've been together for almost fifteen years so in gay-years that's a hundred and five years which you must admit is quite spectacular.

Anyway, life isn't perfect and full of hardships, but getting married and starting a family was the best thing that ever happened to me. It doesn't matter where I go, I got my crew by my side. Starting life anew in a new country and new city without knowing anyone in advance would be much scarier if I really had to do it alone. But as things are, there are always five of us to keep each other company. Fourteen legs worth of love.

We had our surrogate and her husband at our wedding in Toronto, sitting at the family table. That was four months before Blake was born, so he was technically there with us at our wedding. We didn't prepare vows, so we decided to say a few words to our guests. My words turned into a spontaneous speech and you can totally see I'm winging it, but I'd like to think it's part of the charm. So I tell myself, anyway.

Happy anniversary, hubby!


Monday, January 23, 2012

The Cynthia Nixon Experiment

I'm Gay! Now I'm not! Now I'm gay again and now I'm not!!! Yay!
To make a short story shorter: In a recent interview Cynthia Nixon pissed off gay fans when she made the infuriating statement that being gay is a choice. Money quotes:

"I gave a speech recently, an empowerment speech to a gay audience, and it included the line ‘I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better.’ And they tried to get me to change it, because they said it implies that homosexuality can be a choice. And for me, it is a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me. A certain section of our community is very concerned that it not be seen as a choice, because if it’s a choice, then we could opt out. I say it doesn’t matter if we flew here or we swam here, it matters that we are here and we are one group and let us stop trying to make a litmus test for who is considered gay and who is not." 


"Why can’t it be a choice? Why is that any less legitimate? It seems we’re just ceding this point to bigots who are demanding it, and I don’t think that they should define the terms of the debate. I also feel like people think I was walking around in a cloud and didn’t realize I was gay, which I find really offensive. I find it offensive to me, but I also find it offensive to all the men I’ve been out with."

I wish I could say that it made me lose respect for Nixon, but to be honest I never really liked her. I find Sex and the City to be the most abhorrent TV show ever created and any actor associated with this radioactive pile of crap is automatically ruined for me. The only time I remember enjoying a performance by Cynthia Nixon was when she played a stroke victim on ER. Not sure if I enjoyed it because it was a good episode or because I just liked seeing that bitch from Sex and the City getting a stroke. We will never know.

Fond Memories from the ER episode
I think Nixon's statement is offensive because it feeds the lie that being gay is a choice. It is also offensive because it is a complete crock of poop. One does not simply choose to be gay.

Nixon is offended by people saying that she was gay even back when she was dating men. Not only that, it is offensive to "all the men she's been out with". The way she says it she makes all those men sound like a sizeable demographic. I am sure finding out the chick you banged turned out to be a lesbian is a huge blow to the ego. An insecure man might even think that he was so bad in bed that he actually turned her gay. I can see why good ol' Chyntia is concerned and offended.

Lets get this straight (giggles): one can't choose to be gay. I call bullshit on that. One can't choose which ice cream flavour is their favourite. I love chocolate more than strawberry. I might force myself to eat strawberry ice cream instead of chocolate, but I can't make myself enjoy it more. It just does not work like that. I do not believe for a second that Nixon used to be sexually attracted to men, but not women, but then made the choice to just switch over and be attracted to women, but not to men.

BUT! Just so I won't come across as prejudiced against washed up actresses from terribly obnoxious TV shows, I should conduct the Cynthia Nixon experiment and choose to be straight. I will conduct the experiment right now while writing this blog post.

I, Mickey Blumental, decide to be straight now. I am no longer attracted to men. I am now attracted to women.

I'll take a break for five minutes to let it sink in.


OK, I'm back. It didn't work. I still see boobies as butt cheeks that were ruined by having nipples on them. Sorry, mom.

Cynthia Nixon, you are a moron.

No, more than that. You are an attention seeking moron. I bet you knew this unique and bizarre claim will get you some much desired attention. Who cares if you're giving ammunition to religious nuts and homophobes. There are many "gay therapy" groups where gay men are brainwashed to think they can stop being gay with disastrous results and this sort of publicity stunt just fuels that fetid phenomenon.

Regardless, we have freedom of speech and Cynthia Nixon is allowed to talk nonsense and to lie to herself and everyone else. She can also be offended by people who say she is lying.

OR! She can choose not to be offended.

I mean, if she can choose her sexual orientation, surely choosing not to be offended should be a walk in the park.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Winterpeg Photo Dump

I am not focused enough to write about anything in particular so I am simply going to cheat by using my utterly adorable trio of cuteness with a photo dump.

Self portrait.

Crappy photo, but shows the rec room at a rare moment of tidiness.

It takes Blake one minute to turn the rec room into this.

This is what Leo does 90% of the time.

Another self portrait.

After being eaten alive a few times Dexter now knows his place.

And he likes it.

Blake is puzzled by my fascination with him eating.

Quality time.

Blake notices the camera, time to pose!

Or is it time to nose?


Blake loves Leo.

And Leo loves Blake.

And more self portraits!

Took the dogs out to a field to stretch their legs.

They really really needed that...

So it the weather isn't -100c we'll try doing it every week.

A hat would be nice...

Manitoba? More like Flatitoba.

Ready for school!