Learning from Penguins

Madagascar Penguin Avatar

I cannot think of a story more apropros to what happens online when a topic goes viral, save the Jenny McCarthy autism vs. vaccines debate, than the Great Penguin Sweater Fiasco. To sum up what happened, in 2011 (according to the timestamp of Mike Dickison’s article I quoted below) there was an oil spill in Australia. Thousands of penguins were affected so online activists (or charitable people, if you prefer) put out a call for sweaters since that was a solution to resolve the problem, similar to what happened years earlier.

The end result is that “hundreds, possibly thousands” of unneeded sweaters will continue arriving at Skeinz. The organiser claimed, “the sweaters were a way for people to help, even if they weren’t going to be used.” Apparently the sweaters will be sent to a conservation group in Australia, though with crates of penguin jumpers already in storage it’s hard to see when they’ll ever be needed; some might be sold for unspecified fund-raising purposes. It all seems like rather a poor use of thousands of hours of volunteer effort: the knitters would have made more of a difference supplying gloves and hats for the volunteer clean-up crew, or donating a few dollars to Greenpeace, or writing to their MP with their views on maritime safety or offshore oil drilling. Knitters didn’t sign up to make sweaters for sale; they made them for penguins. — SOURCE: The Great Penguin Sweater Fiasco

Why did this happen? Forget the penguins for a moment. We already know why bad information goes viral. Reading comprehension isn’t the greatest and that is exacerbated by the way in which information gets shared online. There is no sense of time on the internet and it’s not common practice to read the time stamp on articles or find fact-based updates that refute earlier points. That, combined with the fact folks get paid for eyeballs on the page (e.g. free sites supported by advertising) — drama is a business. But here? The Great Penguin Fiasco wasn’t drama, it was the exact opposite of that. There was a desire to help, a need to do something when all other options failed, and it went viral.

Replace penguins with people getting upset about purple underwear. Fall 2011: Purple underwear is totally acceptable. Spring 2013: Can’t wear purple underwear because it’s a major faux pas. Spring 2014: Purple lipstick is a major faux pas. Or is it? Donatella Versace backpedaled when confronted with purple lipstick worn in this photo (dated 2011). Star Trek celebrities seen taking pictures in support of purple lipstick. Upsets the fanbase. Manufacturers called to stop making purple lipstick. An oversimplification at best, true, but non-issues tend to pop up just as easily as real tragedies do. Online, there is no difference between a cat picture and an oil spill.

The penguin sweaters are a physical manifestation of the word “viral”. Thousands upon thousands of penguin sweaters is a picture that’s seared into my brain whenever news (bad or good) is shared online. This is what viral communication can do. Every sweater is an action someone took to help, not knowing what the end result would be. This is impressive in its scope, considering one has to know how to knit and take the time to make these sweaters. Ironically, this has now evolved to a new call.

If you read the fine print, you find out the sweaters will actually be sold in the gift shop. I guess “knit sweaters for us to sell in our gift shop” is not the sort of thing that goes viral.

So, instead of knitting sweaters for the penguins, they’re asking volunteers to create free product. That is a much different tack on the volunteer effort. Think what you will of that, by the way. If the sweaters are being used to raise money for conservation efforts, is that necessarily a bad thing? A moral dilemma to be sure but… How many knitters read the fine print?

Lessons from the Great Penguin Fiasco? I feel they include the following:

  • There are positive and negatives to group participation. (And those who seek to take advantage of that knowledge.)
  • Group participation is not short-term, but can have long-term, lasting effects on what people believe about an event, fact, person, or organization.
  • The facts don’t matter as much as the participation does. This is a great power that can be used for good or evil.
  • The perception of value is determined by the frequency of shares, not by the content or the facts. That perception may have no basis in reality, financial or otherwise.
  • Once a message emerges into the online community, it cannot be controlled. It will, however, evolve on its own based on commentary about the original message.
  • Messages can be shaped, but once the facts have been twisted in favor of eyeballs (either positively or negatively) most of the originating message holder’s efforts will be focused on damage control because of the resurgent popularity now and in the future.
  • Damage control for messaging is time-intensive and has no expiration date.
  • Speaking before knowing all the facts impacts what other people think of you when they find out the truth now and in the future since the conversation is ongoing. “Well, why didn’t you go to the source?” “How come you didn’t read before responding?” You may have written an article five years ago, but no one cares, because folks are never allowed to change or grow from their mistakes on the internet. Why? Eyeballs on the page, yes, but also the perception of that person’s value based on what’s being said/isn’t.
  • Read the fine print. Always.

And last, but certainly not least…

  • The best way to help is to go to the source and work directly with the individuals involved. This may be a more time-consuming approach and a less popular one to take. However, if you truly want to be part of the solution, popularity (e.g. either broadcasting the signal or feeling like you’re part of something) shouldn’t matter.

My name is Monica and, thanks to an article on penguins, I was able to confirm that yes, I have finally made my peace with the internet. (Thank you, penguins — and Mike!) You may have a different approach to dealing with hot button topics online, and that’s okay. As always, I don’t seek to educate or instruct, but to share and empower. To me, encouraging you to critically think and use your beautiful brain is more powerful than dictating what you should believe.

Back to writing. Have a wonderful day!!!!

    Mood: May I never stop learning.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I over-caffeinated and repeating that today.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Chased my cats everywhere. They own me.
    In My Ears: Bulletproof (Tiborg Remix) by La Roux
    Game Last Played: Sonic All Star Racing Transformed
    Book Last Read: Lovecraft’s Monsters anthology
    Movie Last Viewed: Looper
    Latest Artistic Project: National Craft Month
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Freedom Flyer
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work and novels.

Final Fantasy Redux (Or a Niggling Point)

Shiva Final Fantasy X Avatar

The Atlantic posted an article this morning about Final Fantasy dubbed: “Casting ‘Revive’ on Final Fantasy.” My cactaur has demanded that I speak on the subject, if only because I still need to think about the post I was going to write. 10,000 needles really sting.

Final Fantasy X. Major hit, right? Romance, tragedy, action, camp, questing. A very traditional RPG-style game and a step up from VIII and IX. There was still a dungeon crawl aspect to the game, but the story, easter eggs, and visuals were good — so who cares? Then came X-2 which continued the story and followed three female characters. This was the Charlie’s Angels of the Final Fantasy franchise. It attempted to emulate what was cool about X, but erred on the side of camp.

XII was a miss for me. I played through it twice, but I didn’t “get” the story at all. It felt distant and while there was more free-range than X? It had more of an epic fantasy feel a la IX than a science fantasy feel. I just didn’t care.

Then XIII came out. I was happy to see moogles returned to their former glory. I did not like the romantic storyline between Snow and Serah. Sazh… Oh, what can I say about THAT stereotype… Lightning kicked ass, but her character was pretty flat. I AM A PROUD SOLDIER WHO WILL ALWAYS DO HER DUTY. And I didn’t like Vanille. The sound effects when she moved killed me. In fact… one might say XIII was predictable. Two-dimensional even. I mean, I remember the ending from X, from IX. I remember being surprised. Shocked. Not “meh.”

Again, XIII was a fairly linear game experience with a time-sensitivity element to it. There were some X-ish overtones, like going back to certain points and fighting specific classes of monsters. The combat in this game was a-mazing. LOVE! And though I say the game was 2D, oh my moogle… There was depth and the time sensitivity of the l’cie versus the c’ieth was brilliantly done. That tied the characters together on their quest, but it was a “forced” tie — they had no choice. So, unlike X, the tension was as a group rather than on an individual basis.

On the ending, I had the same problem with XII; I didn’t understand Orphan at all. (Possibly because I couldn’t hear what he was saying.) So my emotional impact was more focused on beating Orphan than caring about him. Meh. Orphan boss battle requires a specific configuration as well, and my latest play-through I broke the game and got stuck. I wanted to get a lot of CP (because I was doing the sidequests on the Plains) so to do that I’m on the last board. Only… You can’t go back and the only way forward is to fight Orphan — which is a ridiculously long bloated Bartholomew hot mess on moldy toast. Stringing multiple boss battles together without saving in between is cause for migraines. FUN TIMES!

XIII-2? Total game-changer. This was a non-linear game. A time travel — LET ME REPEAT THAT — A TIME TRAVEL GAME. Still, you had beats of a story that were strung together, but this had more of a character emphasis than a “Here’s a troupe traveling around!” feel to it. Plus, you picked and chose what modules to play through while unlocking other branches of the story. I liked XIII-2 better than XIII by quite a bit, and I feel that it would have been on the level of X for me with the exception of ONE thing. The ending. I threw the controller. I did. It was, by far, the worst ending possible for any game I have ever played. How bad was it? It was so bad, my neighbors showed up at my door to ask me if anything was wrong.


Enter Skyrim. (Yep, I still haven’t played through Skryim yet and I doubt I ever will finish this.) This is now the gold standard of gaming. I feel that this game, when combined with MMOs, has a profound impact on what gamers expect of Final Fantasy. The ability to submerse yourself in a FF world and not be constrained by maps or linear play — I mean this is partly why Dragon Age has a mission/sub-mission system where you can play the sub-plots in multiple orders but still get the main plot. There’s the illusion of freedom to avoid drag.

Here’s what I want out of a Final Fantasy game:

  • Great characters.
  • To be surprised.
  • Story reveal that isn’t an info dump.
  • Layers of challenges. XIII’s combat system nailed it, but easy/hard/expert would be grand, too!
  • Being able to unlock new boards because of time/XP earned. (e.g. Like the secret boss fight level on X-2 in Via Infinito
  • Recurring characters like the chocobos, moogles, and cactaurs
  • Ability to play the story and either avoid/dive into dungeon crawling
  • Ability to play as multiple characters.
  • Ability to choose sub-plots and have that impact the main story/character interactions.
  • An innovation unique to that iteration. e.g. FF XIII has the time travel aspect which is drawn out more and more with each sequel. Awesome!

And that’s pretty much about it. Love the soundtracks; love the franchise. I’m not sure if I need a Skyrim-based FF game would work, but I do know one thing — in an RPG-style video game? Story does matter.

    Mood: I hear a snow plow. FAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: There was coffee. There was tea.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Horizontal. I had the plague.
    In My Ears: Fish tank. It needs to be cleaned and I’m avoiding it.
    Game Last Played: Sonic All Star Racing Transformed
    Book Last Read: Lovecraft’s Monsters anthology
    Movie Last Viewed: Looper
    Latest Artistic Project: National Craft Month
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Freedom Flyer
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work and novels.

To Each Thine Own Creativity

The Tick Weapons Lab Avatar

Since I’ve been diving into art and music again, my ideas have been free-flowing — it feels amazing. In my office, I have many art pieces up ranging from comic book characters to gothic elements. Transformers, Hack/Slash, He-Man, Thor, Star Wars, The Uniques, Final Fantasy, Domo, Miyazaki — and a dozen more waiting to be framed in my closet. My shelves are littered with color and characters like the Tokidoki figurines.

Beside me, are two watercolor pads and a set of paints. YouTube! tutorials abound and brush hits paper. Beads strung on wire and bits of thread. My moleskine notebook is filling up with concepts for new stories and plot-related tweaks for tales in various draft modes. I have several story-telling aids as well, like Rory’s Story Cubes, and various Doctor Who paraphenalia (as it is no secret I would love to write an episode some day).

And I need this creative clutter. You know, I really need it and have to play and use every bit of it. I opted not to pursue a career in art when I was much younger, although I love the field so, in part because I had even less support for that than I did my own writing. [Insert long story about how yes, having a network of people who support you for who you are is crucial to your future. If you don’t have one, make one — I know you can! I did!] I am such a tactile person I can’t “just” write; I need to create art, to be surrounded by it in order to unlock my creative energy. It doesn’t matter if I suck or not. It doesn’t matter if I sell those pieces or not. All that does, however, is that this method activates my creativity. You may be totally different.

What I’ve been learning and honing, more and more, is the concept of artistic resilience. So much crappy news about publishing, about women in publishing (depressing), about what to do/what not to do — distractions. Tumbleweeds. Plastic bags floating across the highway. I want to read about art and listen to new music and… Oh, hell. Han Solo?


More than that, though? I don’t feel there is a single way to find inspiration. I hope you find whatever works for you. There is nothing more freeing to me than knowing what best services the work, because that allows me to block out the b.s. and focus on what’s most important — writing.

    Mood: There’s a frog in my throat. Wondering what its legs look like.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Managed again! Huzzah!
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I went to the gym and worshiped a machine.
    In My Ears: Clubbed to Death (Kurayamino Version) by Rob Dougan
    Game Last Played: Sonic All Star Racing Transformed
    Book Last Read: Lovecraft’s Monsters anthology
    Movie Last Viewed: Dark City Director’s Cut
    Latest Artistic Project: National Craft Month
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Freedom Flyer
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work and novels.

An Interview with my Comic Publisher

Dropping in a quick note to let you know Red Stylo Media interviewed me on their website about my comic. If you notice, I didn’t talk about specific influences for this comic. I didn’t tap into comics for the story nor did I look at Frankestein-related renditions, like the Dean Koontz rendition, I took a page from the film The Last Man on Earth. I wanted to write a period zombie piece that emitted the feel of that movie and approach some of the larger Frankenstein themes. I feel comics as a medium has so much to offer storytelling-wise; it was awesome to write this. Anyway, I felt I’d be cheap CHEEP! if I mentioned comic titles here, since the story was inspired by a movie, so I opted not to.

Eventually, I’ll follow up with a post about some of my favorite comics, but for now… The self-promotion train is a-chugging along for “Last Man Zombie Standing,” Unfashioned Creatures, A Frankenstein Anthology.

Q: If you could be any monster, who/what would you be?
A: Well, it’s quite possible I already am one. Last I checked, I could be a cylon? If it was any monster, I would say a shapeshifter. Because really, being able to transform shapes at will is extraordinarily useful with or without the “monster” attached.

Go on… Read the interview!

National Craft Month! First Three Pieces

Yuna Final Fantasy X-2

March did its best to roar like a Lannister on Saturday. Here’s hoping it’ll whimper on its way out like a House that the Targaryens toasted a few hundred years ago. This weekend, I kicked off National Craft Month with a pledge to create a new art piece every day. My only stipulation was that I focus on something new that I haven’t done before. As I have trouble disciplining my cats, Rimmon kept a watchful eye waiting for the needle and thread to come out — so I opted for wirework instead and took inspiration from my writing.

I have a ton of these little dice beads so I picked out three colors that made me think of Firefly. This is what I came up with, an ear cuff modified off of this design.

Firefly RPG-themed Dice Cuff

Since I already had steampunk on the brain, I created a pendant. This one is a little more Alice in Wonderland than what I had written and submitted, but you know? For being a completely freeform piece, I like the way it turned out.

Steampunk Pendant

This pair of earrings is inspired by the story I submitted in the blind. Though the plot was set in modern day times, I wrote the piece in a Victorian style. Which, if you’ve read my work, means that’s also part of the plot. We shall see! I’ll keep you posted.

Steampunk Earrings

You can see how the earring hangs, here. I wish I could say I tried to make good use of negative space, but in all honesty this design was a total accident. I had a silver gear that was perfect to go with the other one, but I lost it as I was working on it. Yep, I’m that talented. It has gone into the abyss, where lost socks wander aimlessly, leaving behind a trail of yarn. Or tears. Whatever.

Steampunk Earring

    Mood: I refuse to be defeated. Winter will end!
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Managed!
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I should have gone to the gym. Instead, I hang my head in shame.
    In My Ears: Monday morning shuffle.
    Game Last Played: Sonic All Star Racing Transformed
    Book Last Read: Lovecraft’s Monsters anthology
    Movie Last Viewed: THOR: A Dark World
    Latest Artistic Project: You’re looking at it.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Freedom Flyer
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work and novels.

Previous Posts

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.


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