Category Archives: Uncategorized

Goodbye, Origins (2016-2022)

A group of youtubers has been making Minecraft roleplays since 2016, and yesterday they officially closed it down. Shortly after I became invested in it, of course! Minecraft roleplays, a form of collaborative storytelling that takes place with Minecraft characters and settings, have piqued my interest for a few different reasons. I like the idea of stories told collaboratively, I love that Minecraft handles the mechanics of animations, and I am fascinated by artists for whom character creation comes easy. (To me, it’s the most terrifying part of writing stories.) On top of all that, I got invested in the voice actors and the plots in the #OriginsMCRP universe.

Yesterday, at the #OriginsIsOverParty on twitter, on youtube, and on Twitch, various content creators gave their perspective on what went well and what was difficult, and I learned a lot from their retrospectives, not just about the experience of making Minecraft roleplays but also the particular challenges of making art on youtube and of building a community.

Minecraft roleplays are not as popular as they were two years ago. Roleplays got a huge boost at the start of the pandemic when people were stuck at home and afraid for the future. Serial episodes came out several times a week, from a variety of perspectives. A fan community grew up, made fan art and fanfiction, and shipped characters. Some of the youtubers — not all — started making a livable income from their roleplays.

Some Origins creators found that content creation caused serious mental health issues. The pressure to always be bigger and better, combined with a general drop in viewership that was completely outside their control, must have been intensely difficult. Other forms of content creation, like playing video games, got more viewers for less work. Some of the Origins folks started leaving the group for jobs or Twitch or mental health breaks. Because it is a collaborative story form, people leaving messed up the storylines that other creators were actively working on, raising the pressure. Meanwhile, some who stayed behind worked hard on “cinematics.” These look amazing but are hand-animated, so they take a lot of time and effort. Sometimes the cinematics delayed the release of episodes, and youtube is not at all forgiving. The dreaded “youtube algorithm,” which ranks and recommends videos, penalizes breaks.

Let me take a moment here to rant about the youtube algorithm. This impersonal and ever-changing set of automated rules has a direct impact on folks’ livelihoods and also often on their perception of whether they are crafting good or bad content. They have to constantly watch the analytics to see how they are doing.

That’s deadly to art.

I’m impressed with what these folks managed to create even despite those hurdles, and I hope they will keep making roleplays or some other form of collaborative storytelling, and I hope they will end up being compensated for their work.

Shout outs to @CrazyMtch42, @Captain_Froggie, @FourOhFourEnt, @nayaVT, @plulesser, and all the rest. Keep telling stories.

Minecraft Writing Prompts

Back In 2016 I participated in a Minecraft Club for Sacajawea Elementary, and I developed a curriculum for 15 minutes a day of writing about Minecraft. I’ve revised it a little for home use. 

Please feel free to adapt and share widely. It’s available under the Creative Commons license CC BY-NC (Attribution-NonCommercial) meaning that you are welcome to adapt and share it, but not to sell it, provided you give credit. An example of how to give credit is: “Minecraft Club Writing Prompts by Kristin King, used under CC BY-NC” or “Adapted from Minecraft Club Writing Prompts by Kristin King, used under CC BY-NC”. Here is a link for more information:

The prompts are all in one file, Minecraft Club Writing Prompts. Enjoy!


Fanfiction for Kids

Some time back, I taught a fanfiction workshop for the fifth and sixth graders at my kids’ elementary school. Disclaimer: I have no formal education in teaching. Now that everyone is homeschooling for a while, it seemed like time to dust off my work and send it out. This is made for elementary school but could also work for middle and high school. The important part is: Writing ought to be fun.

When planning a fanfiction workshop, I thought about what would have helped me as a young writer. I was constantly writing stories, but I felt like they all had the same character in them . . . a girl with an embarrassing similarity to me! There’s nothing wrong with that, but it made me feel self-conscious about my writing. I was also self-conscious about writing stories featuring my favorite book characters. I didn’t realize that authors are always borrowing characters and plots and then reworking them. Why not just make it explicit?

Here are links to my posts. Use these because it looks like the links internal to my posts are broken. . . and I don’t have time to fix it.

And here are links to some of the materials I made, including worksheets, overheads, and a booklet I wrote as a kid.



Compatriots in writer’s block

This is the week that some of my fellow writers are bringing me inspiration, not because they are putting out stellar work but because they’re being honest about the struggle to put words to paper, or, once they’re written, submit them for publication.

Some stuff happened in my life (which is now done with) and I had about a 3-month interruption in novel writing, and I’m finding it hard to pick it back up. It’s a self-confidence thing. Also, until recently it had been two years since I’d submitted one of my stories. Pretty darn hard to get published if you pre-reject yourself! I now have three out of six out, with a plan to send one out per day. In theory, it will get easier.

Anyway, I’ve ordered this book, penned by a friend whose words always encourage me: In the Quiet Spaces by C.E. Young. It’s en route and I’ll report back.

Asking the wrong questions, getting the wrong answers

Normally I find the Guardian to be a good news source, but this article frustrated me: “How America’s Identity Politics Went from Inclusion to Division.” The author, Amy Chua, is taking the position of “expert” on a topic for which she’s missing essential context. As are the editors of the Guardian, and probably most of the readership. So people who are quite rightly annoyed by a certain ideological narrowness in the politics of the Left today will go on sharing it on social media and various fights will break out. But this is a time when collectively, our lives depend on knowing what’s wrong and what to do about it.

Here’s the narrative Chua gives:

Perhaps in reaction to Reaganism, and a growing awareness that “colorblindness” was being used by conservatives to oppose policies intended to redress racial inequities, a new movement began to unfold on the left in the 1980s and 1990s – a movement emphasizing group consciousness, group identity, and group claims.

Perhaps she was unaware of the influence that third-wave feminism had on “the left” or the fact that “the left” is not monolithic. How, one wonders, could the she have missed that? Well, who is the author? Amy Chua is a law professor, with expertise in the areas of international business transactions, development, ethnic conflict, and globalization. The view of the world looks vastly different from where she’s standing.

Me, I’ve spent two or three decades grappling with the miscellaneous neuroses of activist groups. I agree with Chua on many points, such as insularity, exclusion, and so forth. But I disagree that these are problems of “identity politics,” and say rather that they stem from a misunderstanding of the original context of “identity politics,” which was a truly revolutionary and inclusive movement by Black feminists that existed back in 1978 and is ongoing today. And people who really want to put an end to narrow-mindedness would do well to understand who has been already doing that work and why, rather than to sweep everything remotely reeking of “identity politics” under the rug.


Why would somebody focus politics on their identity, anyway? Is it “tribalism,” as Chua suggests, or is there a different goal? There’s no answering this question without delving deeply into the Combahee River Statement.  Here’s what the collective has to say about identity politics:

This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics. We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression.

They go on to explain that as Black lesbian feminists they face oppression on many fronts, including race, gender, and class, and because of their identity they cannot agree with any single-issue politics, because it leaves out too much and too many people:

As we have already stated, we reject the stance of Lesbian separatism because it is not a viable political analysis or strategy for us. It leaves out far too much and far too many people, particularly Black men, women, and children.

Because they experience multilayered oppressions, they feel the need to fight them all:

The major source of difficulty in our political work is that we are not just trying to fight oppression on one front or even two, but instead to address a whole range of oppressions. We do not have racial, sexual, heterosexual, or class privilege to rely upon, nor do we have even the minimal access to resources and power that groups who possess anyone of these types of privilege have.

For their own work, they chose to prioritize issues at the intersection of a number of oppressions but also noted:

During our time together we have identified and worked on many issues of particular relevance to Black women. The inclusiveness of our politics makes us concerned with any situation that impinges upon the lives of women, Third World and working people.

This is not tribalism. This work includes anyone who faces any type of oppression. And in fact, it tangibly benefits a much broader group than themselves, right down to working class white men.

And this is ultimately their goal:

As feminists we do not want to mess over people in the name of politics. We believe in collective process and a nonhierarchical distribution of power within our own group and in our vision of a revolutionary society.

I mention the Combahee River Statement because I find it particularly inspiring, but it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to feminist thought by women of color. In fact, it was written in 1978 and theorizing has gone farther than this. Right now I’m rereading the book This Bridge Called My Back, Writings by Radical Women of Color, written in 1981, with works by 29 women. I’m taking it slow, because there’s a lot here, all of it potent.


So for anybody talking about narrowness of politics and calling it “identity politics,” for heaven’s sake, get up to speed on conversations that have been ongoing since at least 1978. Racism and a suspicion of feminism have kept these dialogues out of mainstream awareness . . . it’s long past time for that to end.


Managing family screen time

Every parent I talk to about “screen time” is struggling with it. Managing appropriate use of screens is harder than ever and the generic advice we get isn’t catching up. For instance: how do you restrict screen time when schools expect homework to be done online? Or when kids get music through streaming? When our kids use screen time and what kind they use has a major effect on all our day-to-day routines.

In this post, rather than give the answers (which I don’t have anyway), I’ll give an unedited, disorganized view into what our family is dealing with and the strategies we’re considering. Please feel free to jump in on the comments with an “argh, me too!” or an “I found a good solution for that.”

With no further ado, we’re struggling with:

  • Getting to bed at a reasonable hour
  • Having enough “down time”
  • Making sure to take breaks even while gaming
  • Staying focused while doing homework

A big part of the solution is setting up family expectations and routines. We’re doing this, but with mixed results. It may come as a shock, but I am not a Perfect Mom. I set rules and fail to enforce them or even follow them myself. This is life.

I’m also finding myself stymied by the technology itself. Companies want my kids to be online at all hours, partly because kids’ online activity brings them advertiser revenue. So the technology is deeply manipulative. The kids end up in the middle of a tug-of-war between responsible parenting and capitalism.

I’m sure — or rather, I hope — that hardware and software tools exist that will simplify my parenting job instead of making it harder. So I’m on the hunt for them. The first part is getting specific about which problems need solving, the second part is imagining solutions that will help, and the third part is finding tools that meet my needs.

How technology is making it worse:

  • No stopping points
  • Manufacture of anxiety
  • Encouragement of addictive behavior (for financial benefit)

A side note on stopping points. . .

When I was a kid, television had advertisements–opportunities to get a snack, go to the bathroom. They were also a place a parent could step in and say, “Turn off the TV now!” Arcade video games also had stopping points. Run out of lives, and you have to put in another quarter to keep going.

It didn’t take long, though, for makers of arcade games to realize the “Put in another quarter to continue” trick. A stressed-out player who must win the Boss Battle is a great money-making opportunity.

As a parent, I have to say it’s much, much worse. Our first run-in with software that played tug-of-war with children’s attention was Webkinz. It was introduced through an after-school class offered at school. We’d say, “Time to get off!” and first there would be protests because the pet needed feeding or whatever, and then there were three minutes of mini-games you could only play upon logout.

So unfortunately, the old practice of setting a time and simply shutting off a device leads to power struggles specifically because the game player has something to lose if they don’t play for “one more minute.” And I’ll be honest, I suck at that. I know I should just set hard-core limits and let the kids figure out how to save their work from being lost, but it’s just not in my nature. So I need to automate it.

The worst offenders

For instance: Youtube autoplay. One video ends, another video chosen by youtube runs automatically.

Solutions we’re looking into:

  • Bedtime at the router level
  • Enjoyable online activities that encourage breaks
  • Software that enforces regular breaks from gaming altogether
  • For homework, a locked-down user account

Some things we need from a router:

  • Ability to schedule access for each device separately. A blanket “no screen use between these hours” won’t work for our family.
  • That access needs to be fine-grained, with different hours each day
  • That scheduled access actually has to shut off access to the Internet

Our current router has a setting to schedule access, but it is set for the same time each day. That’s not helpful. Worse, it doesn’t even shut off Internet access to the device. I think it just shuts off the ability of a computer to open new connections, but old connections work just fine.

So when I’m looking at feature lists for routers, they’ll talk about parental control and access scheduling, but it’s not easy to tell whether they’ll do what I want.

I’d also really love this:

  • Ability to shut off Internet to the house for a certain amount of time but maintain wireless connections

We currently do this by unplugging the router, which unfortunately also messes up our printer, which then has to be rebooted. (The printer is also the reason I can’t just pick a new wifi password every day, a strategy that’s often recommended. I don’t even know how to change the password on the printer!)

Online games that encourage breaks:

One of the worst offenders in our house is Games are quick and one morphs into another, leading to “just-a-minute-itis” and ultimately the unplugging of the modem, which, as I mentioned before, messes up our printer.

For Minecraft, some game modes are easy to break away from and others start family fights because quitting can lead to loss of hard-won inventory or worse, leave something they’ve painstakingly built open to griefing.

Personally, I found some help from a little Mah-Jongg matching game. Its moneymaking scheme is to grant the user only one life every thirty minutes, with a maximum of five lives, and to make the levels progressively harder. The point is to get users to spend money so they can keep playing but for me, this thirty-minute stop makes the game ideal for mandatory breaks.

Software that enforces regular breaks:

This is new territory for me. It seems like we want something that will interrupt the user regularly with a reminder to take a break, to fill the whole screen, but to allow for a certain number of “Not just yet!” clicks.

But another option is to have a more optional reminder, combined with software that tracks success.

Locked-down user account:

Online homework is a problem. And the older kids get, the more of it they have to do. It’s like saying, “Here kid, have a nutritious dinner of soggy green beans and liver,” and putting it down next to a bowl of M&M. It’s no good blaming the kid for eating the candy–that’s not the origin of the problem. Adults set up kids to be distracted.

So I’m thinking  about making a user account that is in “kiosk mode” to prevent switching from homework to games.

The kicker here is that often, kids need to do research on google. And google is candy.

Finding solutions under capitalism

So I have some very specific things I want, but when I go online to find them, I have to wander through a mishmash of companies that want to sell me their products. It’s like going into a hardware store in search of a screwdriver, only nobody organized the shelves, and instead of one worker dedicated to helping find you what you want, you have fifty workers wandering around with supermarket circulars. You end up leaving with a hammer.

Tools I’m looking at

I didn’t write this post to sell tools, and in fact, I can’t vouch for any of these. I found them through a pretty ineffective method, google searching. It’s just that they made the cut for further investigation.

Desktop apps (Windows-compatible)

Big list of related apps at AlternativeTo website.


Stretchly is a free, open-source desktop app that gives periodic reminders to take breaks. You can customize the frequency and length of breaks but not from the user interface – you have to edit a configuration file. The developer’s page, with download instructions, is here.

It looks relaxing, but since it’s on the polite end of things, it would be easy to ignore. With configuration, it could probably with extended writing sessions both for homework and for me.

Cold Turkey

Cold Turkey looks like the opposite of Stretchly. It has customizable blocking of specific apps or the whole Internet, but once you’ve scheduled blocking them, it’s nearly impossible to get it back. I think our family is too chaotic for this.


This app lets you configure work sessions and breaks. You can disable distracting apps or turn off wifi. You can also get statistics on your usage. There’s a free version (with a banner ad) and a paid version.

Down side: no Windows version. Bummer!


It looks like a simple Pomodoro timer that’s pretty customizable. Might be a good starter choice. It’s explained at Lifehacker and is available here.

Other stuff I haven’t looked at yet, but might be promising:

  • Focus Keeper
  • Focus booster
  • PomoDoneApp
  • StretchClock Break Reminder
  • Stand Up!
  • SelfControl
  • Freedom
  • HeyFocus

Not workable for various reasons:

  • Marinara is a web-based timer that has URLs you can share. I’m thinking about this for group writing sessions – imagine if we set up a google hangout or whatever, and every certain amount of time, we stopped for chitchat.
  • Forest is an app for phones that gameifies not using your phone. Grows a beautiful forest.
  • Pomodorium also gameifies productivity by letting you spend finished pomodoros (units of time worked) on enhancing a character. That could be something to try later.
  • Push by Zapier Chrome Extension – looks really cool as an integrated task management system. That’s too big for what I want.

Next Steps

I’ll keep looking into apps and modems, but the next thing I’m going to try is simply getting a user account on one laptop that works like a “kiosk.” Windows has a mode called “Assigned Access Mode,” which allows a particular account access to only one application–in this case, Firefox. The goal here is to stop homework sessions from turning into games.

I’ll try to come back to this in a later post and let folks know how it went.

Update 2/6/2018 – Nope, you can’t use Firefox as the “Assigned Access Mode” application, at least, not without some extreme technical knowhow. So I went for the simpler solution of setting up a user account named “school” and deleting Chrome. Baby steps. 

– Kristin

(Image features a socket wrench poised to twist a nail and a hammer ready to pound a bolt.)


wrong tool for the job