August 30th, 2006


The Fall of Rome

There's an interesting review of a very interesting book over at the Albion's Seedlings blog, and it's gotten my mind going on a couple of related topics that have to do with one of my favorite book series and one of my favorite games. Bryan Ward-Perkins' The Fall of Rome uses recent archaeological work to provide a useful correction to both the traditional understanding of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, as given to us by Gibbon, and the recent revisionist version of history which transmogrifies the fall of the Western Empire into a happy shiny "cultural transformation" and the Dark Ages into a more positive and affirming "Late Antiquity".

Perkins' description of the catastrophic effects on rome of the Germanic invasions reminds me very much of the society Drake and Stirling describe in Warlord, and I'm sure the depiction of the Military Governments as Germanic barbarians is no accident, any more than the Gubierno Civil having its roots in Hispanic emigrants from the Americas is. Anyone familiar with Raj Whitehall's world of Bellevue will find plenty of disturbingly familiar history in Ward-Perkins book.

As if that weren't enough to provoke me into buying the book, its study of the economics of the Roman Empires reminds me of the deficiencies of Sid Meier's Civilization games. While the games are wonderfully complex, their simulation of even relatively primitive economies like Rome's leaves a lot to be desired. There is no way to simulate the transport of grain from the North African breadbasket to the rest of the West; every city is an autarkic entity for the purposes of providing bread to the masses, and the specialized manufactories that supported the Imperial legions are regarded as being not terribly superior to the primitive forges of the Huns and Vandals. Clearly, this is a decision that was made to make it more of an enjoyable game and less of a simulation, but it's an annoying one that makes it less enjoyable for me and less useful as a teaching tool.

Anyhow, I see on that the book is available in paperback now, so as soon as I get the new bookshelf set up and some free cash, I think I'm going to pick it up. It'll go well with the Drake and Stirling. *nodsnods*

Codes of conduct

The rant about Harlan Ellison yesterday is actually just the intro to something a litle more deep and complicated, which is a little closer to home as well. See, Ellison's useful mainly as a bad example to others, a superstar in the constellation of obnoxious fucks who clutter the public square. We can point and jeer, yes, and say to our SO "You ever act like that around me and I'll rip your face off," and it has a positive local effect but unfortunately not much else.
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So we wind up having to deal with hundreds of poorly socialized young folks, influenced by media portrayals of a culture apparently more friendly than their own (but with its own unpleasant aspects that tend to be glossed over by anime) and turned loose for the weekend in a space where the normal societal standards for behavior appear to be a lot more relaxed than what they're used to and they're surrounded by hundreds of other kids within a few years of their own age who look and act a lot like they do. This is a pretty liberating experience! It shouldn't be too surprising that some of them get carried away and start thinking "There are no rules! I can do what I want!" Awareness of this is part of the reason Anime Detour has always taken a hard line on antisocial behavior. We'd much rather bring the hammer down hard on a few screwups than make life miserable for everyone, and so far that's worked. Sort of. I've always been a firm believer in setting expectations for people and holding them, to those expectations, and for the most part the members of Detour have acted like the adults I expected them to act like. The question for today is whether that good behavior is going to continue as the convention gets larger, how we can ensure that it does, and what we're going to do if it doesn't. We have a complicated cultural collision going on here, and it can make the job of communication very difficult.

Part of the reason any society works is that the vast majority of the people in that society agree on what the rules are and also agree that the rules should be enforced. By that definition, the subculture of anime fandom (and especially the small town of Anime Detour, Minnesota, that exists in that subculture for a few days each March) is a society, but does everyone know what the rules are? How can we communicate the rules so that nobody has an excuse for being ignorant of them? What do we have to do so that people understand "KEEP YOUR HANDS TO YOURSELF" applies at Detour just like anyplace else? I'm perfectly willing to admit that our existing policy of making a hideous example out of offenders may not be the best way to deal with the problem; the only defense I have to offer is that so far it's worked. I'm sure the Detour staff would be interested in other ideas as well.