The Legacy of Homestuck and the Future of “Webcomics”

In the Year of the Kickstarter, where The Order of the Stick and Penny Arcade have seen runaway success on the crowdfunding site (and you have no idea how pleased I was to find out PA didn’t end up passing OOTS and in fact barely even cracked half a million, or only double its goal), it shouldn’t be too surprising to find Homestuck jumping on the bandwagon as well, and it should surprise exactly no one to find out that it stands to blow them both out of the water. Consider that it’s a video game Kickstarter, and it’s a mortal lock. I wouldn’t be surprised to find it challenging the most-funded projects in Kickstarter history, even considering how crowded that category has gotten this year; OOTS is still in ninth place, though there’s an active drive that stands to knock it down to tenth. I really don’t think becoming the fifth project to crack $3 million is out of the question.

Really, the idea behind the project makes a ton of sense. Not only is Homestuck, like the rest of MSPA, structured like an old text-based adventure game, but Hussie’s original plan was to do it entirely in Flash, only switching back to images with only the occasional Flash when the all-Flash approach proved to be too much work. One thing I was struck by, going through this original “beta”, is that Homestuck was originally going to be much more like a video game. Icons appear signalling things that can be clicked, to the effect that upon reaching the command “Remove CAKE from MAGIC CHEST”, you are actually invited to click on the cake and move it to the bed. I was so intrigued by this that I actually started going through and trying to figure out how Homestuck might have played out if it was a video game of this sort, even with some breathing room for player choice, and got through Act 2 before burning out.

On the other hand, that is not what this project is. Rather, it’s an effort to create a sequel to Homestuck in video game form, set within the same universe but probably not using any of the same characters. As such, my interest is considerably weaker than it might have otherwise been (I finally got around to reading Problem Sleuth, and while it started out pretty funny, it just started dragging on and on and on), though I certainly see why Hussie says he couldn’t possibly go that route.

However, what I’m really here to talk about is something I was struck by in Gary “Fleen” Tyrell’s initial writeup of the Kickstarter. You can read it here, but I’ve copy-and-pasted the relevant bit because it’s so important, and pay special attention to the second paragraph:

Let me tell you a little bit about Andrew Hussie and Homestuck: I have been struggling to read it, because it’s damn voluminous, dense, stuffed silly with music and interaction and games and self- and forward- and back-references and completely, utterly not for me.

It is the opening shot of the native culture of the second generation of internet users — the ones that have always lived there, not those of us that immigrated from the Old (nondigital) Country within our living memory. And here’s a hint for everybody that still remembers the Old (nondigital) Country: there’s more of them and fewer of us every day, so maybe if your livelihood depends on putting content in front of eyeballs in some fashion, you ought to be paying all the attention you can muster to Mr Hussie and the fans whose brains he lives in.

There’s been a lot of question over what medium to call Homestuck; while it’s usually called a webcomic, it ultimately blends elements of webcomics and video games with something completely original. I mentioned in my original review that Scott McCloud would not only refuse to call it a webcomic but would question whether it even took the medium in a good direction to go in. As with “About Digital Comics” (and the very occasional imitators thereof that have appeared since, which I call “digital stage comics” for reasons that post should make clear, and which MSPA might be seen as a variant of), though, I believe it most definitely is a productive direction to go in, maybe even more so.

In Understanding Comics, McCloud mentioned the tendency for new media to be seen through the lens of the old, often borrowing tropes from their parent media before developing some tropes of their own. I had serious issues with the story of Homestuck when I initially archive-binged it (my reaction might be similar to Tyrell’s, right down to the use of the Penny Arcade Defense), but perhaps its real legacy is in its utter redefinition of what we think of as webcomics. It is quite possible that the entirety of what we have been calling “webcomics” for the last decade and a half is little more than the “seeing new media through the lens of the old” stage of a medium we might call “visual online entertainment” for lack of a better term, and in this perhaps Homestuck is its Citizen Kane. And if that’s the case, surely it represents the ultimate realization of McCloud’s infinite-canvas vision, even if McCloud himself might disdain it.

When I questioned how many members of a “greatest webcomics” list would still be on it within ten years if webcomics fully explored their potential as a medium, I had no idea where that potential might lead – which is why I called that series “Webcomics’ Identity Crisis“. And when I suggested that a potential “greatest webcomics” list “would include at least some comics we can’t even imagine today”, Homestuck was precisely what I was referring to, even if I didn’t know it.

The Future of Content: Prologue

This may be shaping up to be the Year of the Kickstarter.

The Elevation Dock is about to end its run with over 1.3 million dollars collected, 17.5 times what they initially set as their goal. No other project in Kickstarter history ever even broke a million. The Order of the Stick Reprint Drive demolished the previous record for the most-funded comics Kickstarter in about 48 hours and seems to be on track to at least threaten the record the Elevation Dock broke, if not break a million, by the time it ends.

And then Double Fine Adventure came along.

It’s remarkable enough that Tim Schafer and company set the bar as high as four hundred thousand dollars, a level only a handful of Kickstarters had ever achieved – when OOTS broke the top ten it was at less than $350,000. It’s even more remarkable that they doubled that goal and ran down the pre-2012 record in a day and zoomed past the Elevation Dock soon thereafter, becoming the most funded Kickstarter of all time in less than 48 hours.

Of course, you could say they represent the ultimate fulfillment of Rich Burlew’s advice, which may talk about being able to direct people to the site but can be generalized to “have a pre-existing audience”. But the fact that these projects can have this sort of astonishing success in this close proximity makes me wonder if this is just the beginning, especially if the independent video game community is paying close attention to Double Fine’s success, and especially if the fandoms of OOTS and Double Fine stick around in significant enough numbers to smash the horizons of what could be possible on Kickstarter.

That could allow creators to dream of making whatever they want and know there’s an army of people out their waiting to fund them to whatever extent necessary to get it off the ground, though for the moment it’s advisable to stay below five hundred grand and/unless you have an army of supporters already. (The Elevation Dock suggests it’ll blow away the usual model for venture capitalism as well.) The usual ways for such creative works to get funding, with all the barriers to entry and subsequent meddling that implies, could be rendered completely superfluous.

Now you know the real reason why those “usual ways” were so high on SOPA and PIPA. Their very survival is at stake.

My Birthday (And Continuing) Book Wish List

Last summer, I made a list of books I was interested in with an eye towards pseudo-reviewing them and discussing them and their interesting ideas, or at least exposing myself to them. As it would be unlikely that I could buy them all (books are expensive, especially non-fiction ones, often running $20 a pop!), even after getting more gift cards from Barnes and Noble every gift-giving season than I had heretofore known what to do with, I would run the list on Da Blog as a “Christmas list” during a run of political posts in October and hope the mass of new readers I was hoping to attract would get them for me.


Then my USB drive stopped working and the planned run of political posts was a big bust anyway. Now that my drive has been recovered, a month out from my birthday on April 22, I’m posting the list – with some additions – as a birthday list, even though many of the books may be less topical and less interesting than they were before (especially before the election). It may seem odd that I would ask you to buy stuff to give to me (as opposed to buying stuff from me), but it’s with an eye to future posts on Da Blog (I hope), as well as other projects such as my idea of writing a book on the impact of the Internet. (Even though in most cases I don’t have much time to read any of them.) Besides, many of them should be eye-opening even if I never get them. I may institute a direct donation system of some sort at some point down the line. (If it weren’t for my distrust of PayPal, I’d have one already.)


If you want to get me anything, e-mail me at mwmailsea at yahoo dot com for a mailing address. I’ve organized the list by some broad topics:

You may recall I started my abortive attempt at a series of political posts with a brief digression into global warming, which led to a brief discussion of mass transit’s role in correcting it. Originally that was going to turn into a larger project that would last until the start of the platform examinations, and I still want to revive that project in some form at some point. (The brief comeback of the platform examinations may have contained what was originally intended to be a hook into that revival.) I have three books on this sort of thing already I was thinking of reviewing, but there are still more I’m interested in:
  • Who’s Your City? by Richard Florida
  • Suburban Transformations by Paul Lukez
  • Cities by John Reader
  • Cities in Full by Steve Belmont
  • Any book about urban planning


The first book on this list isn’t strictly “political”, but it still ties in to related interests. Many of these relate to the battles in the Media Bias Wars.

  • 10 Books that Screwed Up the World (and 5 Others that Didn’t Help) by Benjamin Wiker
  • Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News by Bernard Goldberg
  • The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain by George Lakoff (and any other books by the same author)
  • Right is Wrong by Arianna Huffington
  • Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair (and What We Can Do About It) by William Poundstone
  • Behind the Ballot Box: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting Systems by Douglas J. Amy
  • Declaring Independence: The Beginning of the End of the Two-Party System by Douglas Schoen
  • Going Green: A Wise Consumer’s Guide to a Shrinking Planet by Sally and Sadie Kniedel


These books are interesting in some way in terms of research for my book on the Internet, and so they’re somewhat higher priority than the others. Some have the Internet as their topic, while others are interesting filters to look at Internet culture through, or unavoidably touch on the impact of the Internet. There are a couple of books I didn’t list, and if I included any that aren’t impact-making or at least critically acclaimed, forget about them.

  • Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World by Don Tapscott
  • Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce, and Childhood in the Age of the Internet by Kathryn C. Montgomery
  • Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams
  • The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
  • The Tipping Point: How Little Things can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell (and any other books by the same author)
  • Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
  • The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson


Hey, trying to think all the time is a good way to burn my brain out. As you can tell by the fact I don’t have as many thought-provoking posts as I probably should.

  • Any installments of The Complete Peanuts after 1970
  • Garfield Gets His Just Desserts
  • Any Order of the Stick book (this is somewhat difficult; the online shop is the most reliable place to find them, and even that’s not 100% reliable; certain comic book stores may have them, but not all; gaming stores – specializing in D&D and their ilk – are more likely, but in the latter two cases availability may be based on whether or not they’re in print)

Also, I’d really like to be able to play The Sims 3 when it comes out in June (unless it’s widely panned), but although the “Franken-computer” I have for a desktop was built in 2004 and was state-of-the-art then, and has been pretty close to it for five years, it only barely has enough processor power to play it and definitely not enough RAM, and I’m not sure if it has enough video RAM. I’d prefer not to have to get an entirely new computer just to play one game, but…

Look for a video version of this post popping up on Youtube sometime next week.

Okay, this is WAY later in the day than I was intending to write this post. I was hoping to set up SOME sort of backlog to start pumping out smoothly, but right now I’m not sure what’s going to come out on Tuesday. My webcomic posts usually require a significant amount of research, and the one I have in mind is no exception, so it may end up waiting past Tuesday. I don’t even have tomorrow’s strip written and drawn up and I have only the vaguest idea of what will be in it.

I recently finished reading True Enough by Farhad Manjoo, which fascinated me the instant I saw it in the store. Its main thesis is that, thanks to the Internet and cable news channels, we no longer differ merely in what opinions we hold, but in what we hold to be basic truths. I will have more to say about it in general when I announce Truth Court probably over the weekend, but there’s a point, expounded on on pages 113-122, which I want to devote a post to. It tells of an experiment performed by a researcher named John Ware. Ware hired an actor to masquerade as a distinguished expert and talk at length and with a lot of flair about a bunch of nonsense and not really say anything of substance. The audience was a bunch of college-educated professionals and even professors – in theory, able to see through the ruse. But instead, they all talked about what a great speaker he was, how stimulating his lecture was, and so on.

Ware had the lecture played for a second group and got the same results. He showed it to a group of students – a group “enrolled in a graduate-level course on educational philosophy” to boot – and got the same results. Some in the group even claimed previous experience with the “expert” or his topic. Ware soon became devoted to studying the “Dr. Fox effect” (after the name of the fictitious expert in the original experiment) and conducted several more experiments on the topic. One experiment involved breaking another group of students into groups and playing several lectures that varied based on “content” and “expressiveness”; the lectures with the highest levels of both did best, but expressiveness rated far higher than content.

I leave it to Manjoo to bring the implications into stark relief: “[P]rofessors were better off teaching very little very enthusiastically than teaching very much very badly.”

Manjoo makes the point that this means that some “experts” are only experts in presenting nonsense like Dr. Fox. But let’s repeat the implications one more time: If you attempt to tell the truth in a boring, dry manner, you will lose to someone who tells complete lies in the form of jokes. We’ve all heard about how people value style over substance, but you probably could have never imagined how important it could be. I’m honestly stunned you don’t see the implications fully realized more often – more politicians explaining their positions with flowery metaphors, more professors teaching their subjects with sarcasm instead of sleep. Of course, politicians that try to inject more energy into their speaking style end up coming across like Howard Dean, but personally, I thought “The Scream” made me more likely to vote for him, if I were paying more than superficial attention to the race and if I were old enough to vote at all. I want more energy in my politicians, and after reading True Enough, I suspect most Americans do as well, they just don’t realize it. Heck, I’m fully intent on making Da Blog as entertaining a read as possible, not just a blog of dry substance. Style and substance, in perfect unison, is the best blend of all.

Which may or may not be the best segue to Zero Punctuation.

After getting exposed to ZP (and before getting exposed to True Enough), I have become convinced that any speech can be made more entertaining by reading it really fast in a British accent laced with profanity while crude stick figures acting out everything the speaker says appear on the screen, laced with simple rebuses and often dissonant phrases. Go ahead, try it with the driest speech you can think of!

Ben Croshaw was a game-developer hobbyist and sometime reviewer for some time but didn’t get his 15 minutes of Internet Fame (TM) until he decided to create a special video review for a demo, which quickly proved so popular he did a second. And after just two videos, he was contacted by The Escapist to keep making funny videos for them every week so they might lure hordes of Internet losers some people in to their site and own them forever.

(See what I did there? This is a piece of cake.)

But perhaps I should let Croshaw explain it himself:

That only scratches the surface of ZP‘s popularity. I invite you to take a look at the archives I linked to above. I guarantee you you will find yourself watching video after video, unable to stop until you’ve been through the whole archive, even if you’re not really immersed in “video game culture”. ZP has become big enough that previews of it now air each week on G4 – a real, like, TV channel, and stuff. It’s not a tiny Internet subculture by any means. There are more than five hundred comments on – and thus many hundreds if not thousands more people watching – a bunch of crude images presented as though their presenter had ADD while a Brit basically says “omg popular gamez sux lol” really fast only with a lot more profanity. (Not to mention more than its fair share of ripoffs littering Youtube.)

That’s the future of dialogue regardless of the field. The more energy, the more visualness, the more everything you pour into what you have to say to make it more than “what you have to say”, the more you will survive and thrive. Simply put, The Daily Show is the wave of the future, not just in news but in everything from politics to sports. The people who say media is dominated too much by “sound bites” and who, well, gave us the “style over substance” cliche in the first place will probably decry this development, but if it gets more young people involved in politics, well…

…um, why is all of that a negative again?

An experiment continued, clarified, and started

Because I know there are people who will attack me for it, I want to make clear that I am not seriously proposing what is proposed in this strip! That said, if anyone was to carry it out, I would not necessarily oppose it… although I would not be one of the hordes of men to fly into the store and take it off the rack. (Swear to god!)

By the same token, I’ve had 24 hours to reassess, and I also want to make clear that I do know GTA technically has some semblance of plot. That’s why I mentioned empty action movies in yesterday’s post – those things will tell you they have plots too, but no one cares about them, and they’re all the same anyway!

If you’re not hep on the Hot Coffee scandal or Mass Effect, you might find yourself a little confused at today’s strip…

The Violent Video Games Debate

As a stopgap measure until SiteMeter allows one account to hold multiple counters later this year, I have added a Bravenet counter to Sandsday (NOT the rest of the website yet), similar to Da Counter from January through August 2007, so I know just how many people are enjoying the strip each day without wondering just how reliable Freehostia’s stats are. I have 26 separate hits for the webcomic’s title image this month, and at most 13 of those are mine (15 last month but I don’t even know how many of those are mine), hence why the counter starts at 13. But the mere fact that I have to go by the title image is not a good sign. And because I’m not entirely certain how many people really read Sandsday before now, I’m hoping I can set SiteMeter to only display the number of people to visit in the last 24 hours.

This is the last strip in the ongoing debate on violent video games, and because it ends ambiguously, I want to cover some points not made in the strip. First, I want to make clear that “Break the law as much as you can” is not really a plot. If you think it is, you can have your empty action movies.

In itself, video game violence is not wrong. It’s a damn sight better than real violence, and real violence is enough of a fact of life that we should not be censoring video games if the violence is to be expected. But it depresses me to think violence is an actual selling point for games, and for games like GTA and its clones, the violence is basically the point. What I don’t like is the idea of the violence sandbox that’s basically “Kill as many people as you can. Why? You don’t need no steenkin’ why!”

Not that there’s a problem with pointless games. I don’t have a problem with mind-numbing time sinks, because you need one of those once in a while, and I don’t have a problem with violence in video games, but I do have a problem with casual violence as a time-killer. It doesn’t reflect well on the mindset of video gamers, it’s more subject to the desensitization effect than deeper games, and there’s nothing to distract from the fact that you’re basically ending the “life” of simulated people. And people don’t play video games to have moral dillemas, so the conflict gets swept under the rug – if there’s a conflict at all, which is even worse.

I hope I’ve made my position clear, but I fear I haven’t. In fact I may be back to clarify my point.

A blatant attempt to get Sandsday on the search engines

If you saw yesterday’s strip, you know I’ve started to engage in a blatant attempt to rope in video game geeks by commenting on current events. But today’s strip is only different from other video game-related strips I’ve done because it specifically mentions the Wii, at least at first. What happened? Did I realize just how much it was begging?

Well, let’s face it. The one thing most video game geeks want to do with the Wiimote, more than anything else, is aim it like a gun. Maybe sometimes swing it like a sword. But mostly aim it like a gun.

Hey Fox News: If you really want to take an unsubstantiated shot at the video game community, try painting them as potential murderers. Of course, everyone and their mother has done that already, but there’s still something to be concerned about…