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📣 The Sarah Z Video Fallout

  • Posted in fandom

One of your questions was whether I thought Gio was a stalker. It’s my personal take that he probably does not technically qualify as one, but I also don’t think it’s a simple “no” either, given his antagonistic fixation toward people at WP, and his persistent invasiveness has made the women at WP uncomfortable.

Suffice to say for now, I don’t trust him, I will never speak to him, and probably no one from WP ever will either.

After the backer update came out, I took at look at Gio’s revisions to his article, and unsurprisingly, he just rearranged all the new facts so that he could draw all the same basic negative conclusions he’d already drawn.

I think this would be a bizarre conclusion to reach for anyone who was looking at that update objectively, and just indicates that the facts never really mattered because he had already made up his mind.

The only explanation is what everyone at WP suspected all along.
He’s a troll.

*record scratch*

*freeze frame*

You’re probably wondering how I got into this situation.

It all started on 4/13/2021. That’s right, I’m writing a story about me this time. It’s my blog, after all. First I wrote a history, then reported on a rumor, and now it’s time to tell a thriller.

📣 Trouble a-brewin’ at Redbubble

  • Posted in fandom

Homestuck is once again lit up over fan merch. Homestuck and fan merch have a long and troubled history, but this latest incident is between artists, Redbubble, and Viz media. Here are my thoughts on that!

In late May 2021, artists who sold Homestuck merch on Redbubble got this email:

Dear [name],

Thank you for submitting your fan art for Homestuck and/or Hiveswap as part of Redbubble’s Fan Art Partner Program.

At this time, our partnership with the rights holder VIZ Media has come to an end. When a partnership expires, we are required to remove officially approved artworks from the marketplace. This means that your Homestuck and/or Hiveswap designs will be removed from Redbubble soon.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • It is important to know that licensors do not allow previously approved designs once sold on Redbubble to be sold on any other platform, even after the program ends.
  • Because this removal is not in response to a complaint, your account will not be negatively impacted.

Partnerships come and go, but don’t worry. We’re looking forward to partnering with more awesome brands in the future.

Check out our Current Brand Partnerships list to see all the properties that are actively accepting submissions. For additional information, we recommend checking out the Fan Art Partner Program FAQ.

Thank you, Redbubble

This hit a lot of people, and hit them hard:


Unfortunately for Twitter and brevity this is actually the intersection of a couple different complicated issues, which I’ll try to summarize here.

Redbubble forcing predatory licensing on people🔗

Now, copyright law sucks for fanartists, but that doesn’t explain what happened here.

📣 W.D. Gaster and fake depth

  • Posted in fandom

or, “W.D. Gaster undercuts Undertale’s cohesiveness as a work”

When I wrote The Raphael Parable, I updated it with a little ARG. “The ARG Update”, I called it. There were scattered clues, and a puzzle, and secret notes so the diligent scavenger could piece together what really happened. Except nothing did really happen. There wasn’t a story I wanted to tell, there wasn’t an interesting mystery to solve, there were just clues tied to more clues tied to an arbitrary ending. It was the trappings of mystery without any of the meaning.

Petscop, on the other hand, has a substantial depth to it because it keeps tying itself to reality. The viewer is given a real person recording themselves playing a game. It’s set in our world. The game itself seems to be intricately tied to real-world events; too. Disappearances, the player’s family, even the YouTube account managing the videos. Petscop tells a deep mystery story because the mystery is backed by a story: a death, an abuse, a revenge. There’s meat to the mystery.

Sans (Undertale) is a fun character. He’s spooky. He breaks an unbreakable log, he teleports, he’s figured out something about the timelines. Then there’s a fight with Sans, where he’s very tough and has a gun. Then he needed a backstory for his gun and science, and we got Gaster, who is almost those things. Gaster was a fun idea, though, so he got some extra Easter eggs. We get room_gaster, the gaster followers, Mysteryman, the wrong number song, and the sound test. He’s fun, and mysterious, and ended up carrying most of the mysterious lore bits of Undertale that were never quite explained.

So, who is W.D. Gaster? Who is the big backstory, the Secret, the man behind the True Lab? Nothing. He’s the previous royal scientist, but through some unknowable horror he got deleted from reality. “Shattered across time and space”, according to another character who doesn’t seem to exist. He’s cut content who was conceived of as cut content. He’s a mystery by definition. The only story he gets is one of omission, the vague cosmic horror of not existing:

Have you ever thought about a world where everything is exactly the same… Except you don’t exist? Everything functions perfectly without you… Ha, ha… The thought terrifies me.

-still not Gaster, because he isn’t there

Of course, the story I’m describing here is emergent, not one he was crafted around. This is the narrative that arises out of Gaster’s mechanical function of… well, not being there.

Treating Gaster as a solvable mystery is an explicitly absurd quest in futility. He is unfixable. The answer is missing.

But Undertale isn’t about mysteries, not really. Undertale wants you to move on from Undertale. Undertale shames the genocide completionist and teases the pacifist stickler.

Don't you have something better to do?

Undertale doesn’t want you to sit down at a corkboard and “solve” it. W.D. Gaster refuses to be solved. His whole character is defined by being missing, by not being in the game or even in the universe at all.

And yet.

And yet Gaster demands solution. There’s just too much riding on it. With every ounce of weight Undertale gives to its plot, with every secret detail it includes about Gaster, it demands you care about him. He designed the SOUL machine that kickstarts the whole plot of the game. He gives Sans the knowledge he needs to nudge the timelines toward safety. He is all the loose ends and plot holes wrapped up into one character who isn’t available to be interrogated.

This isn’t like with the genocide route, where the player is shamed for starting a rampage for the sake of it. This is a mystery the game created, a mystery the story revolves around. The player is demanded to consider it, to solve it, to work towards solutions. But in the end they’re denied a solution. There’s a missing piece, and there always will be.

In a parallel to the way Asriel wants you to keep playing the game to the point of self-destruction, Undertale wants you to keep solving its story to that same end. It’s perverted, sure, but when it comes to Gaster it’s something Undertale deliberately hooks you into doing, not an expectation the player unfairly imposes on the work.

I’m forcefully reminded at this point about Folding Ideas’ excellent video The Stanley Parable, Dark Souls, and Intended Play, which makes this argument:

If there is crafted content on the other side of your misbehaviour, then it’s not actually misbehaviour.

If there is something that the game’s author simply flat-out, 100% did not want you to experience, did not want you to engage in, then it wouldn’t be there. Even when it comes to potential misbehavior using the rules of the system you’re placed within, externalities that they didn’t or couldn’t account for, like throwing garbage at NPCs, the only truly accurate sign that the authors don’t want you doing that is that nothing happens at all. This is because even a negative reaction, even the game pushing back against misbehaviour, is content.

The obvious example of subversively intended play is the genocide route — a joke he makes in the video — but I can’t help but think of the contrapositive alluded to in the quote above: if there is nothing, no content behind a path, then the game is making the strong, deliberate statement that it does not want you following that path. Gaster, a character defined by a lack of content, is then a whole degree of judgement further than the genocide route — maybe even the harshest a game can possibly discourage something. How viciously then must Undertale not want you to think about this?

But — for me, at least — this paradoxically creates a weird illusion of depth. The mystery being intricate, having scattered clues throughout the game, being tied to characters and mechanics I’ve learned to love through playing it… it all makes it feel important. Fun values and random events make the game feel “deeper”, like there’s a vast world you’re getting inconsistent glimpses into, and Gaster seems to be presented explicitly as a secret that takes digging to discover. Digging is explicitly encouraged with more content and tidbits and clues

And as you learn the puzzle is harder and harder to solve, as the clues become scattered so far throughout the game world and tied so deeply to the plot and characters, the “answer” feels more and more important. It’s an illusion. A trick. A sleight-of-hand. There’s no depth, no substance to it. Just signs and symbols of depth around an answer that isn’t. We know the answer isn’t deep or important because — by definition — there is not an answer at all.

I say it “undercuts Undertale’s cohesiveness as a work” because again, I think Undertale wants to be set down and for the player to be finished with it. But Gaster simultaneously hooks the dedicated player into an unfinishable puzzle.

The Gaster mystery is the kind of thing you have to seal away in a glass box, or else it doesn’t work. It’s a mystery you can’t treat as a mystery. It’s an ouroborus. Despite the act of eating and the concept of body length being things that demand concrete resolution, it’s not a resolvable thing. You can’t finish it, you can’t resolve it. You can only abstract it and understand it for what it is.

I love W.D. Gaster. The mystery of omission is incredibly tantalizing to me, on a deep level. I want to dive in, I want to solve this character. I want to look at the science, and find all the secret grey kids, and piece together every last crumb of the universe. I stayed up until midnight to get the survey program that turned out to be Deltarune, and I was disappointed when it did. I wanted more pieces of the puzzle, not more puzzle. W.D. Gaster is always the promise of more puzzle, but without the solution. The solution isn’t just missing, it’s impossible. The mystery itself is predicated on it not itself being solvable. I hate W.D. Gaster.

📣 More on the Hiveswap Odd Gentlemen Debacle

  • Posted in fandom

EDIT 2021-04-13:

As of Kickstarter Update #36, What Pumpkin made the following statement about the accuser from this article: (They didn’t tell you it was the source in this article, I’m telling you that)

As an addendum, WP has identified the primary source of a disclosure to a well-circulated document of the Hiveswap development process. WP has been aware of a pattern of false claims this former employee has made since the end of their employment at the beginning of 2014. As this individual was not present during the end of the development contract with GC, nor the WP NYC development period, all of the information they have shared is based on speculation and conjecture.

There is a detailed analysis of this update in The Hiveswap Fiasco, but to summarize:

According to What Pumpkin, this is a disgruntled ex-employee who left the team in early 2014, meaning anything they said later than that is speculation. In addition to the obvious — that a whistleblower doesn’t like the practices they’re whistleblowing — this would mean they were not privy to the events of 2014 or later, making anything they said about that only semi-informed speculation.

This makes sense. Many of the claims made here early in the timeline turned out to be correct, and even verified by What Pumpkin later on. Some of the later ones seem incorrect; semi-informed exaggerations to make a point. As with everything else, I will note which claims are dubious. It is entirely possible some of this information was provided in bad faith, but some of still holds up.

In the same Kickstarter update, though, they explicitly confirm a significant amount of the news I broke, including multiple major points in this very article! I have also noted those cases.

When I wrote the Hiveswap article, I left a note asking for people to contact me if there were any facts I got wrong or major events I missed. A number of people took me up on that, which I am thankful for.

However, there was one big report I got that was too significant to just edit into the article. Because these allegations were new, and from a credible source, I thought they warranted their own article and research.

For the rest of the story about Hiveswap, see The Hiveswap Fiasco, to which this is a kind of sequel.

By the request of the source (because Andrew is known to be aggressively litigious), I have edited our conversation into a synthetic document. This is a summary of the claims from the source to preserve their anonymity and ensure clarity. I am not yet asserting anything, just stating what the source said; I’ll hold my personal comments until after the whole thing. Here is that report:

What actually happened with The Odd Gentlemen🔗

The biggest reason there’s an NDA in place about The Odd Gentlemen’s involvement is that Andrew wanted to cover up the fact that much of the blame is on Andrew’s failure to deliver a workable plan to the studio in the agreed-upon schedule.

While parts of the ipgd post are true, the post distorts what happened into a story designed to make Andrew look like he did no wrong. What actually happened is this:

📣 Why Act 6 Hits Different

  • Posted in fandom

One of the reasons Homestuck was so popular is how contemporary it was to internet culture. You tell anyone that Homestuck is heavily influenced by internet culture and they’ll nod and agree and you’ll both be very intelligent media critics. But somehow, even from that same group, you’ll see people who notice how the writing style of Homestuck changes over its nine year run and forget about contemporary culture entirely, which is a mistake.

Andrew Hussie has always spoken (or tried to speak) in an aggressively contemporary voice. What he wrote in 2008 sounds like it was written for the internet in 2008, with all the charm and all the baggage. Homestuck began in 2009. Remember internet culture from 2009? “R*tard” was still an acceptable insult back then (among the dominant cultural groups that made up internet forums, at least). Going back as an archive reader in 202X, though, reading “the r slur” in casual conversation is jarring. Why is that there? That shouldn’t be there.

The comic that Andrew wrote immediately predating MSPA was called “Team Special Olympics”, and that’s a whole conversation, let me tell you. In MSPA proper, Andrew was happy to make running jokes about racial diversity or gay pornography in an uncritical, unsatirical way. This was the internet culture Andrew’s comics were deeply immersed in.

Rather than stay fixed in 2009, MSPA — and Homestuck in particular — continued to mirror contemporary (read: pop) culture as it went on, which caused natural shifts in the material. What were previously wacky domestic antics played up for laughs became serious issues of domestic abuse, in retrospect. As readers revisited the earlier material, they re-evaluated it through a more mature cultural lens. Because of the serial nature of the comic, this worked out very naturally: as Andrew and the fandom grew, Andrew wrote in-characters realizing that abusive behaviour was concerning, just as actual abuse victims do. It felt like a natural progression of the story and characterization, because it was natural; it was the same dynamic that really was playing out irl.

This effect had a noticeable impact on the tone of the comic. 13 year boys who insultingly called each other “gay” as playful insults — or prefaced their interactions with “no homo” clauses — would become very different characters in 2015. Sexuality isn’t a insult now, it’s a character arc. Disabled characters, too, were originally played for laughs, but later got real character arcs about their disabilities as they related to their identities in a way that treated the issue (semi)seriously.

All this change — what Sarah Zedig calls its “maturation away from its at times uncomfortable edginess” — can sometimes rub old homestuck fans who liked everything about the atmosphere of the 2000s the wrong way. It can feel like the second half of Homestuck is “subverting” the story they knew and loved, because, well, it’s different. In back corners of the internet you’ll hear that Homestuck was somehow “taken over by sjws” or even conspiracy theories that later parts of homestuck were ghostwritten by another author entirely. On the other side of the room, you’ll have people who read Homestuck, see how it develops well-written gay, trans, and non-binary1 main characters in its later half, and treat the full body of Homestuck as thoughtful queer fiction.

Neither of these is quite right. Both forget how long Homestuck was a serial work, and how much the contemporary culture it mirrored changed over its run. Homestuck re-framed earlier events as its fans themselves re-contextualized them in a changing world. Likewise, Homestuck engaged with queer topics only as and because they became a topic of conversation online. Andrew’s writing reflected the culture of the internet as it happened, and reading it as an archive work invokes all those difficulties with it.

When people describe Homestuck now, they might mention that the first part is “dated”, due to contemporary references, slurs, insensitivity, and the like. But that forgets that Homestuck intentionally, extremely, unavoidably a product of its time, and the internet culture that gives it its charm is the same thing that can leave a bad taste in peoples’ mouths.

📣 The Hiveswap Fiasco

  • Posted in fandom

The real story of Hiveswap isn’t about the game or the universe. Rather, the conversation “about Hiveswap” is dominated by stories about the development and history of the game as a project — starting as a Kickstarter success story but then bouncing from scandal to scandal for years. The story of how Andrew Hussie burned through a $2.5 million dollar investment over eight years to produce almost nothing is fascinating, convoluted, and poorly understood even among Homestuck fans.

Right now, this meta-story mostly exists in the form of oral history. This is probably due to the fact that a lot of the key sources are ephemeral — and most of them have been deleted — but it’s also because it feels premature to write up a “postmortem” on a game’s development before it’s even an eighth of the way finished. There is also significant pressure on people in the know — even people who just lived through backing the project — to keep quiet about all this, for reasons I’ll get into.

I’m documenting the story so far so that the Hiveswap Story isn’t lost to time, and so there’s a decent summary of events so far, and maybe even so new Hiveswap fans can catch up. I dug through every page, announcement, interview, blog post, FAQ, and tweet I could find, and the culmination is this the most comprehensive — as far as I can tell — explanation of Hiveswap to date.