Dispelling Myth about Dictation / Speech Recognition

When I first started writing this I had just finished listening to episode 156 of The Bestseller Experiment; as a patron supporter I get early access to episodes, as well as being a member of the wonderful BXP Team. The marvellous episode focused on interviewing the author Julian Barr about his new book The Way Home. Julian is also a long time listener and member of the BXP Team. I highly recommend Julian’s book, a gripping tale that was well paced, characters with connections and motivations. His book has also now earned an Amazon bestseller tag! I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series.

Important paranoid associated thought: like many writers I feel like a fraud that just needs to write more and thus I feel awkward about asking for advice, after all I’ve already answered my own request for advice “Write more!” Anyway, later in the episode the two Marks discuss writing using Speech Recognition (SR) and gave a call-to-action regarding listeners experiences with writing via dictation. I was surprised to find that I felt empowered and not a fraud, since this is a topic I know quite well.

As someone with long-term chronic Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) in both of my wrists I have a lot of experience with speech recognition, going back nearly twenty years to the horrendous days of massively inaccurate software; the frustration and stress of trying to use the software often made me feel even worse! Fortunately the various programs have improved so dramatically in the last ten years that I find dictating to be dramatically faster, easier and shockingly more efficient. The vast improvements have come about because of the following factors:

  1. Understanding of what is involved in analysing language (technical).
  2. Improved code efficiency (technical).
  3. Substantially increased computer processing power (brute force).

This also means that modern speech recognition is better are recognising accent and voice differences. With training, software should adapt to work near perfect for most users; I appreciate that is quite a bold claim.

As someone that used to be able to maintain a decent enough typing speed of between 70 to 80 words per minute (WPM), having that ability taken away from me was devastating; I was unable to work or partake of most of my hobbies. Having struggled through the horrid early years of dictation I can appreciate why people are loathe to give speech recognition a try, however just about every problem has gone away these days.

In general many people are not up to date with the latest information when it comes to cutting-edge technology; after all there is so much to do/learn. This is in part because the various non-specialist media outlets are often years behind when reporting non sensational things, there is so much to talk about and typically they repeat the same core points. In this ever-accelerating technologically era I suspect anyone that has not used modern speech recognition has heard opinions that are about software from 10+ years ago. My title was not an attempt at clickbait, when I discuss or read things about speech recognition there is an understandable fixation on accuracy, but with modern software claiming accuracy of 90%+ for most people with little to no training, and 95%+ with some training, I wonder why accuracy is still considered a barrier to entry. It seems like my system is 99% accurate, but I appreciate it has been used a lot over many years. My point is that typically most people will type errors anyway, even with grammar and spell checkers mistakes slip through. Even for those that manage a rare 100% accuracy the first time they type something the result should still be double-checked. Mistakes are still made, accuracy is a concern whether typing or spoken, so why not do the vast majority of the work via speech?

When I was working in adult social services I had severe RSI flare-up, in fact my worst ever that caused a domino of problems. When I returned to work for a while I was able to cope due to using speech recognition, despite being in a large busy office. I was surprised at how accurate it was even with all the background conversations. Additionally instead of using a mouse to navigate the screen I found using commands to finally be efficient. How things had changed!

During long bouts of sleep deprivation I can somewhat rest my eyes whilst dictating. Thankfully I rarely get headaches, but dictation has also proved helpful when I have; I find it’s better to do something than nothing, since I’ll be suffering either way.

I’d like to highlight that a hybrid approach can be used. Especially if you can still type and you want to, then do so. Can be quite easy with today’s smartphones maybe you can use speech recognition whilst away from your normal work area. For the following reasons I’d recommend at least experimenting.

Speech Recognition Pros & Cons

Pro 1: Health

When dictating we don’t need to be sat down or stood still, we are not tied to a keyboard. Since we can move about I often do so. Over the years I have done all manner of things whilst dictating: physiotherapy, light exercise/stretching, to things like cleaning or ironing, etc. When I am having a particularly painful wrist episode my arms, shoulder and back all become problematic, resulting in difficulties sitting or standing for any length of time, so on a particularly bad days I’ve even dictated whilst resting in bed.

Con 1: Training Time Investment

Like any new skill there can be a learning curve, which can vary dramatically from person to person. Although these days even without any training on a modern device and software, dictation can start out at 90%+ accuracy.

I appreciate that getting out of comfort zones and allocating time to learn something, can be challenging. Saying embrace the challenge is all well and good, but people and their situations can vary wildly. It is sensible to decide during an epically busy time that doing something new is too much of a risk, but because life is strange maybe the change will quickly be beneficial, even in regards to time, which links to Pro 2 …

Pro 2: Speed

Personally, I think the health reason is reason enough but just in case here is another reason. Just because a person is good at typing does not mean they should stick with that method, since dictating can allow them to be faster. I often find it easy to dictate over a 100WPM, sometimes as high as 150WPM; granted a few typists with specialist keyboards can beat that, but for the vast majority of people dictation is twice as fast typing.

Following on from Con 1, it is worth learning the extra functions like how to navigate via dictation, as well as the various advanced commands. Going from quick dictation to struggling to carry out navigation commands can make you feel like a writing session was ruined; writers typically have enough reasons to procrastinate without imagining new ones 😉

Speed is a major factor for writing events like #NaNoWriMo, thus the speed advantage of dictation can really pay off.

Con 2: Initial Costs

Not everyone has a computer (desktop/laptop/tablet) or smartphone (I’m only differentiating because so many people typically do, as it is really just a computer with a phone function). Free speech recognition exists but I do find Dragon NaturallySpeaking to be better overall, but it isn’t cheap.

Then there is the topic of what microphone to use. Whilst you can use a laptop’s built in microphone it is better to have a decent microphone, although I’ve found that a £25 microphone works just as well as my more expensive Yeti, so you don’t have to buy crazy equipment.

Other extras: I’ve also invested in a microphone stand, pop-filter, USB cable extension and a high quality wireless headset. The extension and wireless the reason I can exercise or tidy my room whilst dictating.

One of the problems I found using my fantastic quality Yeti microphone was there were a few delays/problems with the software, but this was because I had leaned back in my chair and thus wasn’t close enough to the microphone. So before you rush off to buy an expensive microphone consider how your setup can be altered to get improvements.

Pro 3: Speaking is Natural + Rhythm of Speaking

Based off this subtitle you can see why Nuance called their software NaturallySpeaking 😉 Particularly when dictating dialogue I find I can write a better scene; I think this down to being able to somewhat act the scene out, I feel more in character as I switch back and forth between character perspectives. I’ve even experimented with literally acting a scene out, although that led to some comedy moments of frantically changing my position to be the correct character, like a stand-up performance.

Sometimes we can spend a lot of time thinking about a subject only to find that when we speak we change what we had intended to say. There is something about speaking out loud; maybe it is because we engage more of a body, thus more of our brain. I also think this is probably a knock-on effect of evolution in regards to us being such a social species, we need to be careful of what we say to others.

One of the best tips for writers is: “Read your writing out loud.” Dictating can be a big help, you get used to speaking out loud, thus when it comes time to edit your work you are more likely to give it a try. This also links to one of the key tips from Bestseller Experiment, “Make a public declaration.”

There is another advantage to dictating. If you think of a sentence and then struggle to dictate it, then that is a sign there is a problem. Typically you’ll easily find a rhythm, indicating were commas and full stops best fit; granted you have to say “comma”, but I think that is no different to having to press the comma key. Maybe somebody who struggles with grammar could benefit from dictation?

Con 3: Editing

As I mentioned above I think this is a con that gets too much attention, since work should be double-checked anyway. Still it can be particularly irksome during the training period, when correcting (editing) as you go is highly recommended. I think a valid point about the accuracy aspect is that they are typically errors that we are aware of, unlike when most people type and things slip through.

Crucially this is a problem that fades over time, I rarely need to correct things. Since I write fantasy fiction and role-playing games I also have lots of additions for my fantasy proper nouns, my system mostly recognises these new words after the initial correction or two. Just like with typing it is more important to get something written first, then you have something to edit.

Pro 4: Flow

Due to the pain from my disability, I lost my ability to enter a flow state whilst writing/typing. It was 2009 when this this feeling briefly appeared during dictation. My comfort level with dictating slowly grow over the years, by 2009 I found talking to my computer to be more than only comfortable but also empowering.

Con 4: Habits

Initially when first learning to use speech recognition a user can feel they are wasting their time. Why bother stressing yourself out, fighting your habits? I’ve separated this point from Con 1: Training, because I think habits/traditions are such a powerful part of our psychology.

Habits are typically difficult to break; various people can react differently to the same thing. Decades ago I had the regular association of being denied the use of my wrists to type a decent work session, the threat of pain from typing as well as sitting too long, plus stress and sleep deprivation. Since back then speech recognition was lacking, I quickly developed justifications about putting things off. In the light of pain-paranoia and frustration it became easy to justify thoughts like “I need to minimise computer usage even using dictation, so I need to work out as much as possible upfront.” Once I developed this habit I found it hard to break it, even as the ability of speech recognition improved.

Pro 5: Focus

I find I do not get distracted as much when I am dictating. Maybe because I am typically away from my desk, so I cannot easily check emails or browse. It can seem like our hands have a mind of their own when within a split second of thinking about a website we’ve switched to that. This is why so many writers use blocking software that restricts their access to the Internet. Following on from Pro 3, I find that if I do start giving my computer commands to browse non-important things I quickly stop myself.

Con 5: Stream of Consciousness

Dictating does not dictate quality. The fact we can dictate more WPM means we can also have more to edit. This is a minor Con, yes I’m being nit-picky, but over the years I have dictated a lot of garbage. I think I have solved this by writing more, showing others my work, learning more about writing; not just practice, but learning to carry out skilled practice. If you feel that when you start dictating you are writing garbage, don’t worry I think you’ll quickly adapt.

Bonus Pro: Moving is Thinking

Linking back to Pro 3: Speaking is Natural, there is something about moving and thinking, dictation means you don’t have to be sat still at a keyboard. When we move we are activating different brain regions, plus getting the blood flowing, etc. Physical intelligence is one of the many types of intelligence being researched, plus whilst kinaesthetic leaners are typically separated from other learning types, the majority of people can learn in all manners of ways including kinaesthetic. Quick interesting point, animals have a more developed brain than plants because they need to navigate; the sea squirt is a fascinating creature that once it finds a permanent spot for its next stage of life eats its own brain. It is also worth looking into the tools of memory specialists and how they utilise virtual spaces to associate memories for better recall.

Some speech recognition software allows for the transcribing of previously recorded speech. You can even transcribe a recording of another person, although I’ve never done this and I am not sure of the efficiency of the process.

I’ll be making a video version of the blog in the New Year, but before I finish here are so extra points. Dictating role-playing mechanics is not a big deal, I’ve even used speech recognition to dictate computer code years ago; I am contemplating giving it another go with the vastly improved software and machine power of today.

Whether walking outside or in bed trying to sleep (chronic pain is hell), I’ve dictated notes via my smartphone’s built in software. Granted it is not as powerful as Dragon, but it is easy to do and I don’t have to get out of bed. I’ve also made use of a Dictaphone with a headset whilst walking, that I’ve later dictated at home, this counted as a first draft. Dragon Anywhere allows for dictating on the go, but I cannot afford it and I am rarely out and I have Dragon 15.

In conclusion if you are still not sure if speech recognition is for you, I highly recommend giving it a go, at least go hybrid, mix things up. The future is already happening!

Links

I’ve written about The Bestseller Experiment before.

The Bestseller Experiment Podcast

Julian Barr

NaNoWriMo

Advertisements

Health Before Word Count

Recently I’ve managed to make a blog post weekly, but this week I’m a few days behind. I have done some RPG design work, but as I wrote about an idea I realised I needed to be explain something else first. The next part of my series Role-Playing Game Types is a summary of things that I wrote years ago for my role-playing guide, but those ideas were about 200 pages in, which is why writing a synopsis has proven so time consuming for me.

On Monday I had the urge to rush something out; the thought kept stressing me out. Even though I had written things, I wasn’t going to complete anything in time, and I was trying to stick to a deadline about posting at least once a week. Sadly the stress caused a severe pain spike to my normal pain levels, meaning more breaks were needed. As I mentioned in Healthy Pacing for Deadlines, personal goal setting can only work if the person is realistic about the pace they can set for their work, which also has to take into account health considerations. Estimating how much that is, is a daily struggle, as my health can still fluctuate a lot each day.

Whilst my improved workload is not a return to the vast amount of work I used to do, like a lot of 80 to 90 hour weeks I did whilst at KJC Games, at least things are a bit better than they were a few months ago. I think I am getting better at the daily appraisal in regards to determining how much work I can do before further aggravating my body. The Spoon Theory is a good way of explaining energy management, it mostly applies to my situation, but explaining what my thoughts on this is a blog post all to itself; yep another one for my TODO list.

BatIdeaLoop
A dangerous loop to avoid, finish things, iterate, iterate, iterate.

Thankfully one strategy that improves my odds of reducing problems is to lie down whilst dictating. Sadly this method only really works for my fiction writing, or when discussing a design idea out loud with myself, since I don’t need to keep looking at a screen. If I had the money, maybe I could setup a screen on a very adjustable stand. Or something outrageously expensive:

I am also doing a lot more around the home, as well as looking after my dad whose health recently has rapidly declined, all of which takes time and energy. Each activity is a chance for me to do a bit too much, and as per The Spoon Theory to run out of energy (spoons). I believe the fact I am doing what I’d previously consider to be pathetic levels of physical activity is the area that I have been badly estimating, but I am thankful that I am doing more in general.

I have blogged about The Bestseller Experiment before Writing Curious/Crazy Experiment; I am still thoroughly enjoying the show and will blog more about it soon. Word count is a subject that has been discussed a lot, and the many outstanding authors being interviewed have given great advice about this subject, which so many writers obsess over. So, even though I know about the arbitrary nature of tracking my word count, I still fall victim to it. I really appreciate Ben Aaronovitch’s advice, which is roughly that quality words are what matter.

Although it’s been a year since I wrote my mission statement for the blog, I haven’t changed my opinions for blogging, and what I am slowly building towards. Life still comes down to carefully allocating priorities. Although I’m not in a position to return to professional game design and writing yet, I am striving towards that goal even if my work rate is currently terrible.

CampNaNoWriMo Preparation

CampNaNoWriMo starts on the 1st April, an appropriate date for all the self-deprecating writers who think their work is a joke. Thankfully over the last few months my chronic pain has reduced enough that I have started having some good sleep, generally not at night, it is more a case of being at random times; I have tried to establish a regular sleep cycle, but since I still have pain filled days this has proved unreliable. With the sleep improvements, energy levels are improving, and crucially the mental fog diminishes. I am confident that I will reach the CampNaNoWriMo 50,000 word count by the end of April, and I even optimistically envision smashing this target.

campnano

I bought Dragon Naturally Speaking 15 this month. Although I found Dragon 13 was good, since I have so much writing to do in a short time span I want any extra dictation accuracy gains I can get. I have noticed some big differences. I also found that Apple’s Siri is based upon Dragon, one of these irrelevant but interesting facts. Even after all these years the temptation to manually edit is still there, as it is still quicker, the habit just hasn’t faded. Whilst my arms are always in pain, having my RSI pain levels skyrocket due to writing frustration would be silly, never mind my current chronic pain in left shoulder.

In March I started listening to the http://bestsellerexperiment.com/. I have really enjoyed these episodes, and I was partly using them to get me super-inspired for this April’s CampNaNoWriMo. There is too much to state about them here, so I’ll write a blog about them this weekend.

I’ve been working on my world setting for about two years. Due to health reasons I’ve done what I can, for the first year I was bedridden. Over time I have worked out the setting history and since it’s a fantasy setting the all-important metaphysics; this has been engrained in to me due to working in games design, I appreciate some authors don’t think this matters. Typically for me it is a complicated setting, which I think really matters due to the big focus on mental health, plus I do love my fantasy fate stories. I also have a lot of story outlines for important historical events, as well as a collection of scenes.

Basically, I’ve not just done a lot of outlining I’ve done a shocking amount. This is somewhat similar to Mark and Mark at The Bestseller Experiment; I’ll just hint that the Ben Aaronovitch episode alone makes the series for many listeners, plus how they’ve progressed since.

tbe_banner_shallow-405w

I decided to write something new in my setting, not obsessing over old ideas and trying to connect scenes spread over centuries. By starting fresh I feel like I am going to be better focused. In theory I won’t get distracted by indulgent fantasy designs like working out how memory & magic in my setting will work; I’ve already worked that out. The world building is done, a lot of it, now is the time to write.

Besides having the CampNaNoWriMo deadline, I have the additional pressure of finishing a board game. I will be visiting some friends, so I need to get this game to a playable state; I’ve had a mini playtest and I feel this game is at least on the right track. The board game work was going well until I strained the muscles around my right ribs at physiotherapy on Tuesday, resulting in two days without sleep, which is accompanied by the usual increase in mental fog. Thankfully my passion for this project, plus the fact I’ve been playing around with ideas for this for years, has helped me dictate a lot of ideas, even if half of them are gibberish at least I can edit the half that are good.

Sadly I haven’t completed some of the blog posts I’ve been working on, mostly due to these new deadlines. Well, technically I wrote the third part of my Lessons from Watching Role-Playing Games two weeks ago, but I had a funny idea for some graphics for that post. I won’t ruin the surprise, but I will say that organising a Skaven photo shoot has proven to be a bit difficult.

I briefly pondered writing a blog every day, but I decided that I should focus on writing. With the board game deadline approaching I already have enough to do, and I do still have health issues to manage.

camp-nanoS

#CampNaNoWriMo #AmWriting

Wallowing in Positivity

During my bed-rest I contemplated whether to write a post about things, frustration and embarrassment were strong impediments. Since I have been in a long-term holding pattern with regards to work, training, and well, life in general, it felt like writing a blog post was not worthwhile, since it would be full of vagaries without any conclusion. My circumstances have changed and it seemed odd if I skipped the following.

Things get better, things get worse. Psychologically I kept telling myself that this was my situation. For the last year, and particularly since November, my pain levels have been appalling. When there was a brief respite from pain, my optimism would ramp-up, I was eager to get back to training and work and in those moments it seemed like I was almost healthy again. The problem was that the respite barely lasted long, and usually was due to mixing pain killers with a bit alcohol; I had consulted with several doctors about it being okay to have 1 or 2 units of alcohol a day with my pain meds.

Besides the chronic left shoulder, neck and sometimes back pain, along with lack of sleep, things have been made worse by a lack of exercise. The weaker I get, the worse everything becomes. There were times that I felt like I could get out of bed and do something simple, not too strenuous, like a short walk, but when I did so, I suffered. Even the action of walking, was something I had to carefully consider, pretty obvious when you consider how the arms swing, and the interconnectivity of the body. So, was going for a short walk to help reduce my body’s deterioration, and a chance to get out and about a sensible thing to do, when it also could aggravate damaged areas.

It’s strange having to learn how to tolerate switching between being in chronic pain, to that of having a few hours a day when the pain is tolerable. As the pain level lowers I enter a strange mental place: like being at the eye of a tropical cyclone, allowing me to come out of the fortified cellar, however, coming out is a mistake, the storm has not gone! There is also the weird feeling of being both overtired yet having energy and the need to do something. Since exercise correlates with health and quality of life, I am also concerned about long-term health effects. That even after healing I could be facing a year of rebuilding just to reach a basic level, never mind something more athletic.

So, as the shoulder swelling and pain started reducing, returning to work became the target. A previous phased return to work had failed, since I attempted it shortly after no longer being bedridden, but this time I’d had more rest time, as well as a cortisone injection. I saw several Doctors and they advised that if work/lifestyle changes were in place, that preventative measures at work like using speech recognition: Dragon (DNS), that a phased return to work could help. Having a routine should help with my sleep pattern. That moving about a bit would start to strengthen me weak body as well as my energy levels; simply being out of bed for the day was tiring.

The last phased return to work failed. The pain levels had reduced drastically, but even after the cortisone injection I was not healed enough. Also despite new medication I still had severe problems sleeping.

I didn’t want to leave this job, it wasn’t too demanding, I found it interesting, and they even provided assistance to help keep me in work. Working for social services was also rewarding, since I was part of what is effectively the fourth emergency service, which I agree with. A further bonus was talking with social workers, who I found to be overwhelmingly genuinely nice people. It is easy to imagine that it simply comes with the territory, somebody working in a job where they have to prioritise another person’s needs, as well as a client’s capacity, would be a good person. However, given how tough the job is, the layers of bureaucracy (mostly appropriate), and the complexity of figuring out what is best for somebody, it would be naive to think that all social workers must be wonderful positive perfect people. As somebody interested in psychology and writing I’ve certainly learnt a lot from working there, as well as several interesting ideas to follow up on.

Now I am left with more bed-rest, careful physiotherapy, but a positive attitude that things will improve if I keep things simple and sensible. Throughout my experience I have felt like I am a few days away from being fine, when things were really bad, maybe a few weeks; odd to think that I have been wallowing in positivity. At least I have plenty of time to think about life plans.

Update and NoobGrind GTX 1080 article

I am now fortunate to have occasional hours without any pain, but then excruciating pain in my left shoulder, neck and even arm, can return for seemingly no reason; likely my pathetic amount of activity was too much. Due to this the new role-playing article I have been tinkering with just feels like a low priority. I decided not to force myself to write something, but thankfully something came along and grabbed my attention.

I have been putting off upgrading my PC for about a year. Since my current system does what I need it to do, I have been able to get by. Amusingly I don’t want to upgrade for gaming reasons, but due to how resource demanding Dragon NaturallySpeaking is. Though the software works incredibly accurately the vast majority of the time, there are occasional moments when it struggles.

Last week I finalised a list of parts and sent an email to a company to price up for me. Thankfully they have been slow in responding, which is handy since NVIDIA have announced their new video card range. So at the weekend I watched the presentation and got quite excited due to how impressive the cards are. After a lot of research I ended up writing an article for NoobGrind about them: http://www.noobgrind.com/next-gen-graphics-cards/

The GTX 1080 is certainly more than I need currently. Buying one would be a bit like buying a sports car but then never driving it more than 30mph. However, in the future I do have plans; I will ponder more.

I hope to have a role-playing related article finished in the next few days. I’ve had a few really interesting ideas recently about my decade long unfinished guide, motivation to do something without that is growing.

5 Lessons from my first Role-Playing Session

Oddly I’ve not role-played for nearly a year; it’s quite odd considering how much I have played every years since I was eleven; amusingly my speech recognition thought I said “since I was elven”. Whilst I have been resting, trying to heal, I have been rereading my unfinished role-playing guide, as well as some old anecdotes. This article follows up on my role-playing introduction that I wrote about in role-playing and cyberpunk, I recommend reading that first.

I have written the following about my origin in role-playing to help explain why I emphasis certain aspects. My intent is not to be preachy about what people should do or prioritise; I long since stopped viewing role-playing as a competition.  Whilst I have my preferences, I strive to adapt to different situations, other players’ preferences, and of course moods.

Mr Knowles ran the Warwick High School role-playing games (RPG) club. In 1987 most of the club members played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition, and that is the system I spent the first few years playing. I was aware of other games being played at the club, such as: Traveller, Palladium, as well as board games such as Chainsaw Warrior or Star Warriors. Coincidentally, about 5 years later I got to know several of the older lads I had seen at the club, one became a close friend, and another became my boss when I worked at KJC Games.

During the first week of joining the club, several of us were allowed to play during our lunch breaks. We got to try out tiny scenarios, to learn mechanics with context. I got a bit more explanation about the concept of in-character (IC) and out-of-character (OOC) from Mr Knowles, as the concept seemed paradoxically easy and confusing to my eleven-year-old mind. That week I also met the older players in the group run by Julian that led me to Pete, which I had mentioned in my cyberpunk article.

Batjutsu old D&D, AD&D

My 1st Campaign Session

On Friday the RPG club had its weekly official sessions. For my first Friday I took part in a game that was a big leap for a novice, I was given a level 7 Illusionist! I had barely learnt the core mechanics, yet I was being given an experienced character, and I was expected to know what my spell list was, what the character should memorise, never mind crucial campaign information like monsters and social knowledge.

In a busy science class room, a small group of eleven-year-olds were crowded round a long lab table; I wish I had a picture. We were being mentored by sixteen-year-olds, well more like tolerated. I vaguely remember later talking to a few of the players, trying to figure out why these older lads had agreed to be mentors when they clearly seemed disinterested in more than teasing our inexperience. Playing was more like being dragged along a semi-interactive cut scene, with random dice rolls being called out for the strangest of incidents, like an archaic set of quick time events.

 

dnd screen

Looking back now this first session had the typically bad introduction, the Dungeon Master (DM) listed off a bunch of made up nouns in quick succession, and no context was given. Even if we had been playing first level characters that we have made ourselves, we would have still struggled to grasp what was going on. I don’t recall there being a discussion about backstory, plot arc, personality traits, how this existing party dynamic worked. After all, we were given level 7 characters that had allegedly been played for years in the same group.

After a few random encounters the game resulted in our characters being stranded in the wilderness, in winter, on foot, whilst a blizzard was raging. The characters kept travelling, and soon they were days from anyway, they had run out of provisions for fire, and had no shelter. The mentors or DM didn’t have much of an explanation as to why we had been led into this blatantly bad situation; we had just been told that we had to move quickly to catch up with our target (insert random noun).

The phrase “Winter is Coming”, reminds me of this gaming session. A weak quirky association.

So, each IC day a party member took turns begging for divine intervention. A percentile role of 1, was needed, except the cleric needed a 2 or less. Obviously given the statistical chances required, the rolls failed.

A single 1% is hard enough, requiring several rolls?

Eventually after days of failing, and with the party members near death my character, I enquired as to whether my character should be praying to the pantheon as opposed to an Illusion God. The DM made a secret role and declared my character’s thoughts were perceived as blasphemy, a lightning bolt struck my character destroying all clothing, equipment and leaving on 1 hit point. My character then sacrificed themselves in an act of  penance, to have a bonfire lit to save the rest of the party; I had been told my character would die in moments from exposure. The older lads were in hysterics, and apparently I had made a classic mistake?

“HAHA you died due the DM rolling a dice for suspect reasoning!”

Afterwards I spoke with some other players, a few thought it was hysterically funny, which given the maturity level of eleven-year-olds wasn’t surprising. Thankfully a few other players were not mean, and in fact they thought the whole thing was ridiculous. It was highlighted that since my character was good and worshipped a good god, it was very odd that a good god would kill a character for a thought, never mind the fact that worshipping different gods in a pantheon should be normal.

Importantly this incident raises a key query: why was regularly pleading for divine intervention required? If it was common, then surely the population would have an idea of the types of results, and a level 7 character with high intelligence would have some understanding of their own culture, an every-person knowledge.

I’ll refrain from ranting about a DM having cognitive dissonance in regards to requiring a skill roll for a scenario that they made and are running, whilst claiming they are not involved in decision making. Never mind my thoughts about fudging results.

This incident helped me learn about role-playing, both good and bad points. I will focus on the few key lessons that became a big part of my role-playing opinions.

1. The importance of IC and OOC knowledge.

I have been obsessed with this ever since, including working on my own program to aid in tracking it. Whilst working at KJC Games, a core part of the mechanics I made for Quest GME was about tracking the vast information in the different Quest game worlds. With paying customers to consider I prioritised this aspect of the game, since information is power in any scenario, with play by mail (PBM) games it tends to more so due to the heavier focus on strategy. However, I am lenient with myself and others in less professional games, without the tools to track things it’s no wonder that even amazing players can slip up.

2. Mocking players about character death.

Understandable a player that has lost a character is going to be upset, they really could do without the teasing/bullying on top of it. I appreciate that a character death is a big deal, and thus it is often discussed with a high level of emotional energy, but even in PvP at a big live action role play (LARP) game, a bit of respect should be considered.

3. Mentoring new players.

I think it is important to give a new player a good introduction to a game, a chance to immerse themselves in something new. At a small tabletop group level, letting someone join a game is not required and generally a rare event, so it is odd when DM/GMs don’t assist new people. At a large level, like a big LARP, well veteran players stopping a new player from joining is not possible, so why not help make a new friend and at least not make an enemy.

4. Being forgiving of ideas and actions.

This has served me well in all scenarios, from one of my local groups, running games at conventions, to receiving compliments from paying customers at KJC Games. One of my favourite incidents was helping to prevent a civil war due to a player using the wrong ID code on their ships targeting list, but I checked with the customer to make sure instead of assuming it was wrong, after all it could have been intentional. It is much harder to do this at LARP, but even in large LARPs there can be windows of opportunity to check things.

5. Plot Centered Around Multiple Fake Difficult Rolls

Not understanding statistics is a common human problem, the subject is counter-intuitive. I have come across a lot of role-players who do not appreciate the impact of dice rolls, or other random mechanics. Whilst a lot of gamers are good with numbers, statistics is subtly different. Thankfully I have met many gamers who are good with statistics, like with everything else, the population can be represented as a bell curve.

In hindsight I think the whole scenario of spending days in a deadly blizzard praying for constant divine intervention to be not just forcing deus ex machina, but doing so repeatedly? That’s some outrageous odds, and it turns out the whole scenario was fake, since the party was rescued by NPcs, more deus ex machina, and not very player-centric or heroic.

Health: Cortisone, Writing Motivation

The cortisone injection last week went well, with the doctor successfully injecting the area on the first attempt. The pain of the needle going in was not that bad, I was reading SuperBetter on my Kindle during the process, to help distract me from the pain, it did help a bit. Then as the injection of the fluid occurred the pain skyrocketed, it felt like a large object landing on the area; the doctor said that this could be a good sign, as it indicates that the injection had hit the right area due to how sensitive it was.

My body had an immediate reaction to the amount of pain, I started sweating a lot and nearly passed out. However, the experience sorting out my damaged right ear was far worse, so to anyone reading this due to worrying about their own cortisone injection I’d say yes it will be painful, but you will handle it. The pain experienced for the next two days was more like how the shoulder pain had been a few weeks ago, so not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

6-TR07 FIGURE 4
Example of shoulder injection

Writing & Motivation

Whilst things had improved a little bit I have still lacked motivation to do much, as well as still needing to prioritise doing nothing. So despite receiving positive feedback about the Kaizo Trap and Cyberpunk articles in particular, I have not finished any articles for a few weeks, and I had planned follow-ups on those previous articles. At least I have had time to think about them, but after making a few notes, I then don’t have the urge to continue. Considering I could ramble on using speech recognition whilst in bed it would seem easy enough, but I just didn’t want to, until today when I got so frustrated I decided to ramble a bit.

One of my coping mechanisms whilst resting up has been watching all sorts of videos, I have written a NoobGrind article about Gaming and Disability: Value of Video, which as per normal for me turned into a thousand word piece. I hope to be able to maintain motivation and get back to writing articles about role-playing games and my professional experiences.

What’s Next?

I have another doctor’s appointment today, and I will need a further sicknote extension for hopefully just a week or two, and then maybe the injection will prove to have been effective. As mobility has improved I have been at least able to do a tiny amount of yoga and tai chi, and I hope that this progress will help trigger further strengthening without interfering with the current healing by re-aggravating something. I am still having to hold off at attempting anything Brazilian Jiu Jitsu related.

As pain reduces and health improves, I expect (hope) motivation will return. I guess if things don’t improve then I will have to change mental gears anyway. SuperBetter is helping, but I will write about that another time.

superbetter-toolkit
SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal