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The Passing of Fred Phelps and the Monsters We Create
March 20, 2014

I will neither mourn nor celebrate the passing of Fred Phelps. But as I contemplate his death I am reminded that men like Phelps are not bred but made. They are shaped by the world around them and their experiences. It is a constant reminder that the best way to prevent people like Phelps from rising is to better the world into which they are born.

The tragedy of Phelps’ life is seeing a man who could have been so much more become twisted by the hatred and rage that consumed him and turned him into the monster we knew. Fred Phelps was born 1929 to what we would consider a decent family and one that was well respected in the community. In 1935 when Phelps was just five his mother died of throat cancer. Afterwards the care of Phelps and his sister was handled mostly by his great aunt Irene. Phelps’ father was often gone for work.

Phelps was a model student during his high school years. The man many knew as the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church did not seem present yet. Phelps was described by those that knew him then as intelligent and reserved. While he did not seem to socialize that much he was well known and respected. He achieved the rank of Eagle Scout with Palms within the Boy Scouts of America. His commencement speech emulated FDR’s ideas about the four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Phelps encouraged the sharing of such values and not the simple enjoyment of them.

When Fred Phelps graduated in 1946 at the age of 16 he was slated to enter the military at West Point. It was a moment Phelps he had been preparing himself for his entire life. But it was a moment that would not happen once Phelps attended a Methodist revival.

When Phelps sat at that revival he was sitting at the beginning of a new wave of religious fervor that had begun after the end of World War II and would continue to rage on throughout the 1950s. Revivals could lead to profound conversion experiences that could completely change a person. Who knows how changed Phelps was by the experience or if it simply took something else he had been repressing and turned it into something else? Regardless after that day Phelps became a man filled with religious conviction and what seemed to be a new purpose in life. For the rest of his life hatred and anger would consume him.

Phelps gave up on his future at West Point and entered a Christian university. At some point Phelps stopped communicating with his father and left any letters from him unopened. His passion for what he believed God’s mission for him never died down. He founded the Westboro Baptist Church in 1955.

As Phelps continued his religious mission he took the time to become a lawyer. Many of the cases he took were civil rights cases. He spoke out against racism, segregation, and discrimination. Phelps boasted that he had taken down the Jim Crow laws in Kansas. At one point Phelps tried to sue Ronald Regan claiming Regan had violated the separation of church and state. Phelps’ legal career brought him several awards recognizing his efforts in fighting against discrimination. But it would not last.

Phelps was disbarred from practicing law in Kansas after a case in which he emotionally abused a witness, taking the matter too personally. A few years later he gave up practicing federal law after a complaint had been filed against him about false accusations he had made against other judges.

Fred Phelps started a family, many fleeing from him over the years. Phelps’ two sons Nathan and Mark both left the family saying their father beat them as children. Their sister, Dortha, also left saying the girls were beat as well, though not as badly as the boys. The children that stayed with the church and family deny these claims saying they were more like spanking and nothing more.

The anti-homosexual activities that Phelps and his church are known for started in the late 80s and early 90s. Shirley, Phelps’ daughter, claimed her five year old son was propositioned by a homosexual in the park. The church and family started picketing the park and called on other churches to condemn homosexual activity in Topeka. Everyone reacted negatively towards the Phelps family. Over the years preaching against homosexuals would become their main cause, transforming into the hate filled sideshow we have all come to know over the years.

In 2013 Fred Phelps was excommunicated from his own church for unknown reasons. His last sermon was given September 1, 2013. His health declined over the following months, finally passing away on March 20, 2014.

Hate is rarely bred in a vacuum. Every leader who has led their followers in condemning other groups has always taken existing attitudes, twisting and amplifying them. Phelps’ contemporaries agreed with his stance against homosexuals but simply thought he was too fervent, it’s not pretty when the mirror is held up. Phelps grew up in a time when the fight for homosexual rights was barely budding. It’s not surprising he took such attitudes and combined them with whatever hate and anger he had built up inside of him.

Many have been talking about how we should respond to the death of Fred Phelps. Some want to dance and piss on his grave, treat him like he treated so many others. Others say do nothing and ignore the man who seemed to want nothing more than attention. It is undeniable that the man brought so much unbearable suffering to so many. His hatred and anger spread out and infected those who decided to stay in his life. He somehow managed to darken people’s already darkest days. The world is a better place. Though it is weird to think what he could have achieved if he had chosen a better way of living.

I say remember that Fred Phelps is not one of a kind. There are still men and women like him in the world, though not as prominent. Creating a better world, a better society is how we combat men like Phelps. If they are born into a world without these attitudes their hate has nothing to grab onto to. Respond how you want but remember hate breads hate regardless of how you justify it. It is just as aimless and volatile.

New Story
February 24, 2014
There is a new story up today, Down the Rabbit Hole. It's a bit lighter and less serious than most of the other stuff I do but I was feeling in a bit of a psychedelic fairy tale mood when I wrote it. Anyways more serious and darker stuff coming later this week.

Introduction to Horror Video Games (Survival Horror Series Part 1)
February 22, 2014

The first real horror game I ever played was Silent Hill 2. I was just starting to really get into video games and I had recently purchased an Xbox. I enjoyed horror literature and movies so I was looking for something special to get my fright on with my new console. All the game had to do was entice me with its cover art (the Xbox Platinum Hits edition). I knew nothing about horror video games; nothing about Resident Evil, Fatal Frame, or Alone in the Dark. Absolutely nothing. With nothing to go on except the surreal images plastered onto the game case I entered the world of horror games.

Since that time I have more than enjoyed my time with horror video games, playing and studying them. This article is meant to provide a brief history of horror video games and a breakdown of its sub-genres, one of which I will concentrate on in future articles.

Back in the earliest days games were text games. These were games where the game provided you with text explaining what was happening in the setting and you choose what to do by typing it. The game then provided you with result of your typed action. What we know of as adventure games evolved out of these text based games 1,2.

Adventure games (think Myst) are games where the narrative is advanced through puzzle solving. There is little to no action and failure or death is the result of a deliberate choice, rather than failing to hold off a horde of enemies because you ran out of ammo. Because of this adventure game design has to rely heavily on world building, strong characters, and compelling narrative to pull the player in.

When graphics started to get thrown into horror games the games were still mostly adventure games. But then Resident Evil and Silent Hill came along adding a bit of action to the games along with popularizing the term survival horror. Survival horror games are simply action adventure horror games with a different label.

Action adventure games still retain the puzzle solving aspect of adventure games but inject some action into the gameplay allowing the player to combat the monsters around him/her. The action is restricted either through the scarcity of combat supplies or frequency of combat. While the player can fail the game by being killed by a monster it is not the utter destruction of the enemy that advances the narrative. Puzzles still have to be solved. In fact one could go through the early Silent Hill games without killing much and still beat the game but if you couldn’t figure out a puzzle you were screwed (thank god for online guides).

What the fuck do I do now?

For years action adventure horror or survival horror games dominated the horror game genre but then things started to change as horror games moved towards pure action horror. Action games are characterized by the need for combat to advance the narrative and finish the game. The Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises both started producing entries that were action horror compared to the earlier entries that were action adventure. New video game series, such as F.E.A.R, Dead Space, and Condemned, came along leaving their mark on the horror video game scene.

Until recently action horror games are what dominated. In the last couple of years a new sub-genre of horror games has risen. Another shoot off like survival horror I will simply call escape horror. It is a return to action adventure style games but instead of combat the player has to run and hide. Games like Outlast and Amnesia fall into this category. Puzzles still have to be solved to advance the narrative but the player has to learn how to indirectly face his/her enemies unable to confront them directly. Survival horror games have you directly face the enemy while escape horror has you indirectly face them.

My preference out of all of these is survival horror. That doesn’t mean I won’t dabble in the others. The only one I don’t have much experience in is escape horror which really isn’t my cup of tea. If I’m forced to face my enemies I would rather face them head on then run and hide. The different sub-genres have different methodologies when comes to trying to scare the player. The games that lean toward the adventure side tend to rely more on a slow burn that subtly creeps into your mind, eating away at your sanity while the games that lean towards action rely on jump scares and keeping you in a constant state of adrenaline fueled panic.

The sub-genres tend to shift around in terms of what is popular at any given moment but you should always be able to find something that suits your taste. Below is a list of some recommended games to play based on sub-genre. These are only games I have had experience with. There are a ton more out there I haven't had a chance to play yet.

Pure Adventure Horror: Sanitarium, Scratches, I Have No Mouth and Must Scream, Doorways

Survival Horror: Silent Hill 1-3, Resident Evil 1-3, Fatal Frame Series

Action Horror: Alan Wake, Silent Hill 4-5, Resident Evil 4-6, F.E.A.R Series, Condemned Series, The Suffering

Escape Horror: Amnesia and Outlast

1. There weren't just text adventure games. There were other types as well like text RPGs but today's adventure games still carry a lot more of the design philosophy of the text days compared to other genres.
2. If you want a more detailed and personal history of the early days of horror video games check out this article.

Finally here is my favorite song from the Silent Hill franchise:

A Call to Fellow Storytellers
December 7, 2013

Someone trying to justify their sexual assault by saying “Look what she was wearing. She wanted it,” is like seeing a man dressed in a baseball uniform walking down the street and throwing a baseball at him which smashes him in the side of the head, killing him, and saying “He was wearing a baseball uniform. He should have expected a baseball anytime.” People want to be sexy. They want to be pretty or handsome. They want to engage in consensual sexual activities. What they don’t want is to have someone follow them down an alleyway and to be forced to engage sexually.

If the baseball player had been approached and asked if he wanted to play a game the player would either say yes in which case the game would be played using agreed upon rules. If the rules are broken the game is called off. If the player says no then his wishes should be respected and one should simply walk away. The analogy seems absurd but so does the way our culture treats sexual assault/harassment. In our society it always seems like it’s the victims fault. The message is often “Don’t dress like a slut” when it should be “Don’t rape people.”

I have encountered several people (both men and women) who have shared their stories of sexual assault with me and each time it hurts. Rarely do I say anything. What can one say? Well there are many facets of our society that need to change in order to change how we perceive and handle sexual assault there is one I can speak to personally, one I can plead with as a fellow: the storytellers.

I think sometimes storytellers underestimate how much their works affect society. But we have to remember that as people experience our creations some of them walk away with a different perspective on things. Often it’s an easy thing to overlook. When you’re a young storyteller you just want people to notice. Are my characters believable? How’s the dialogue? Does the plot make sense? And depending on what medium you’re working in you have so many other things to worry about from filming permits to programming languages. We overlook the effects our works have on others.

But as much as people turn to things like religion to guide them in life, without realizing it they rely on us so much more. I think of all the people who were inspired and shaped by things like Star Trek, Doctor Who, Star Wars, or Harry Potter and am in awe at the power that storytellers have over how people see the world1. So here is my plea: fellow storytellers help change people’s perspective on sexual assault.

As storytellers we need to craft stories that share the realities of the victims. We need to not treat rape as that thing the villain does to show he’s evil. We need craft characters that are comfortable being sexual without simply being sexual objects. Sexual assault should not be treated as a convenient plot point but as an integral part of the emotional development of the character. It should not be a stock scene in “torture porn.”

Why am I writing any of this? Partly it’s because I’m tired. I’m tired of hearing the stories from the wonderful people I meet. I’m tired of reading the news stories. I’m tired of hearing the twisted logic behind the excuses the perpetrators give for their crimes. I’m tired of courts and other authority figures that rarely do anything. And part of it is I invest myself in subcultures where sexism and sexual assault/harassment takes place regularly. I want these things to improve. I want the world to improve.

As storytellers we have brought joy to people, we have brought tears to their eyes, and we have brought some to their knees. I’m not under some delusion that these things will change overnight. I’m not the only person saying such things or pushing for change but it’s about collective momentum. As long as people keep speaking up and joining the fight to change things then they will. As storytellers we have to remember the kind of power we have to shape people’s perspectives and use it to help make the world a better place.

1. I just want to make a couple more side notes on how storytellers affect people. In the anthology House and Philosophy one of the essays mentions first year medical students coming in with a House like attitude. A man like House makes for great drama but less so for practical medical practice. There is also the issue that legal shows like Law & Order have created false expectations for people. Juries expect some sort of confession or a 100% airtight piece of evidence making it harder to obtain a guilty verdict in some cases.

V/H/S 2 Movie Review
July 9, 2013
There is a new review up for the horror anthology movie V/H/S 2.