The Skeptical Gamers

Bringing critical thinking to Gen Con Indy

Archive for February, 2010

We Have an A/V God!

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on February 28, 2010


Bruce Critelli, Conjurer of Sights and Sounds for Skepchicamp Chicago 2010, has agreed to be our A/V God for Gen Con! He’s going to help with video and audio recording and setup.

More information to come as he gets it to me!

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Interview on Skeptically Speaking

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on February 25, 2010

This past Wednesday, I recorded an interview for the podcast Skeptically Speaking where in I talked about our plans for Gen Con, the vaccine drive, and what kinds of things we still need from the community (if anyone’s willing/able to provide them). It will air on their website Friday, March 5 at 8PM eastern, and for anyone that misses the live show, it’ll subsequently be up on iTunes. I’m really excited about this; with enough work, some luck, and a bit of community support, this thing could grow to be humongous.

Tell everyone you know!

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Vaccine Fundraiser Details

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on February 21, 2010

So, as it happens, I spent some time on the phone with Gen Con’s marketing head this past Thursday, and she really does love the idea of our fundraiser for the Indiana Immunization Coalition. Gen Con loves the idea so much, in fact, that they’ve given us a free 10×10 booth, which costs for-profit operations about $1000. How cool is that?

Our booth will be located in the exhibit hall inside Gen Con’s Family Fun Pavilion, a perfect place to spread awareness of childhood vaccination. It’s on the corner of two main drags, and apparently situation very close by two of the biggest vendors in the hall, which should add to our traffic significantly. We’ll be there all through the con handing out pamphlets and educational materials for the IIC and immunization in general as well as collecting donations.

Our basic plan is to have a “Magic Menu” which suggests different amounts to be donated in exchange for simple feats of magic and mentalism performed by myself and Sean (we need to learn a lot more tricks before August 5). Of course, we’ll accept donations without magic, and we’ll perform for any amount of money, but it’s nice to have a general baseline.

Part of the deal with Gen Con is that we have people manning the booth at all times, from open to close in the exhibit hall. To that end, we’re looking for some more volunteers who want to help raise money for childhood immunization. We few can’t possibly run the booth the whole time; apart from having our own presentations to give and meals to eat, we would like to have some time to explore and enjoy the convention as well. If we get some more booth volunteers, we can work out a rotating schedule that affords everyone plenty of time to have fun and help raise money for the IIC.

So if you’re going to be at Gen Con and wouldn’t mind helping out (or if you want to come to Gen Con in order to help us out and have an awesome time), please either leave a comment here, use the Contact Form, or just e-mail me at causticbox[at]gmail[dot]com. If you have other talents to contribute, please check out What We Still Need to see if you can fit yourself in somewhere.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

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Tentative Schedule of Events

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on February 17, 2010

Today I’d like to throw up a prelimiary schedule of events based on what I’ve submitted to Gen Con so far. This schedule doesn’t include the immunization talks we’ll definitely be giving now that the vaccine drive is a go, nor does it include a couple of other events I’m working on behind the scenes with a few other people.

I’m going to add a page at the header that will be an up-to-date schedule of events, which I’ll keep current as new plans arise. For now, here’s what we have:

Date Time Event Presenter(s)
Thursday 5 August 3:00PM – 3:30PM Evolution, Creationism, and Gaming Tristan Zimmerman
Friday 6 August 10:00AM – 11:00AM Archaeology vs. Pseudoarchaeology Sara Head
Friday 6 August 1:00PM – 3:00PM Skepticism, Critical Thinking, and Pop Culture Don Riefler, Tom Foss, Sean Bennett, Jon Maxson
Friday 6 August 4:00PM – 5:00PM Cargo Cult Science Don Riefler and Tom Foss
Saturday 7 August 11:00AM – 12:00PM How Financial Scams Work Sean Bennett
Saturday 7 August 1:00PM – 3:00PM Skepticism, Critical Thinking, and Pop Culture Don Riefler, Tom Foss, Sean Bennett, Jon Maxson
Saturday 7 August 4:00PM – 4:30PM Evolution, Creationism, and Gaming Tristan Zimmerman
Saturday 7 August 4:00PM – 5:00PM Culture and the Paranormal Don Riefler

Keep an eye right here for further updates to the program of events!

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The Vaccine Drive is a Go!

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on February 16, 2010

So we have a beneficiary (the Indiana Immunization Coalition) who is very excited to have us raising funds for them, and less than an hour ago I received the following missive from Gen Con in response to my inquiry regarding the fundraiser:

Hello Don! Thank you for reaching out to us. I love your idea and I agree that having you at Gen Con would be great! We actually have an area in our exhibit hall dedicated to families. I think having your tables in that area would be perfect. I would like to talk details with you this week. Do you have some time to visit tomorrow or Thursday? Please advise. Thank you!

Megan Culver
Director of Marketing

The was the lynchpin, really. I wasn’t at all sure how Gen Con would react, but they love the idea! They’re even going to give us a spot where we can do maximal educational damage! I do worry about our ability to collect maximal fundage from the family area, but I’m going to float that concern on Thursday when I give Ms. Culver a call to hash out the details.

What’s basically happening here is that everything is working out far better than I ever could have hoped. Both sides are extremely willing to work with us toward the goal of promotions vaccination in Indiana, and right now all that’s left is details. From here on out, it’s all gravy.

I love it when a plan comes together!

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Talk: "Evolution, Creationism, and Gaming"

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on February 16, 2010

One of the positive aspects of last year’s “Skepticism, Critical Thinking, and the Paranormal” panel was the interest it attracted for the big Gen Con Indy 2010 skeptical expansion. One of the new recruits for 2010 is one Tristan Zimmerman, who runs the excellent evolution education website EvoEdu. He’s going to give a talk titled “Evolution, Creationism, and Gaming.” I asked him to describe it:

While most of the other topics in Gen Con’s skeptic track focus on skepticism, “Evolution and Creationism in Gaming” focuses on what brings us all to Gen Con – tabletop roleplaying games. Evolution education website’s webmaster will be explaining how you can use evolution and creationism to bring life to your games! We’ll be mostly focusing on how they can inspire complex and interesting NPCs, story elements, and background to bring verisimilitude to your games. From island dwarfism to believable priests to mass extinctions, everyone will walk away with exciting ideas for their next campaign, and with a little more knowledge on what evolution is and how it works.

I’m really looking forward to this: evolution education set in a really solid gaming context. Tristan’s talk will be 30 minutes long, and he’s going to be giving it twice.

Speaking of, I’ll have a preliminary schedule of events posted here in the next couple of days.

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Vaccine Drive Update

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on February 12, 2010

I spent half-an-hour on the phone today with the director of the Indiana Immunization Coalition, and we have banged out a preliminary plan to help change the face of vaccination in the state of Indiana.

See, Indiana is 44th in the nation in childhood vaccination rates, but that’s not, apparently due to lack of money, as was the case in Nevada at The Amaz!ng Meeting 7. No, the state Department of Health is rolling in dough to pay for kids’ vaccines as a public health measure, but our abysmal rates are due rather to misinformation and miseducation. In other words, Indiana has fallen victim to the antivaccination movement.

Thus my original plan of trying to get the money to directly fund vaccination really isn’t going to fly. Instead, what money we manage to raise is going to be donated 100% to the Indiana Immunization Coalition, who will use it to help fund new educational initiatives to try and counter the antivaccine nonsense that people are picking up just as a consequence of living in the world these days.

The IIC’s director seemed quite excited to have such an opportunity, as their funding is meager and nobody has ever offered to raise money for them before (which, I told her, is appropriate, because I’ve never raised money for anyone before). In order to best support the work of the IIC, we’re going to supply congoers with information about their mission and the amazing benefits of vaccination. We plan to trade our amateur magician and mentalism skills for donations. Our continual fundraising activity will be augmented by at least two presentations detailing the immunization demographics in Indiana, why the low rates are such a bad thing, and just what is so great about vaccination.

At this point, it’s in the hands of the Gen Con event organizers. I’ve sent them a proposal for the fundraiser, and I hope they see the extreme positive benefit we could have here and give us the thumbs-up.

I’m really excited about this! We really have a chance here to do lots of good for the children of Indiana!

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Talk: "Culture and the Paranormal"

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on February 8, 2010

Another of the talks we’ll be bringing to Gen Con is a one-man talk by me (Don) called “Culture and the Paranormal.” This is one I’ve been mulling over for a long time.

“Culture and the Paranormal” will be a broad cross-cultural survey of paranormal beliefs and occurrences in order to examine the hypothesis “If paranormal events and beings exist in reality and not just in the mind, then they should be relatively homogeneous and not differentiated along cultural lines.”

My main thesis, to answer that hypothesis, is “Paranormal explanations for experiences generally draw almost exclusively from prevailing cultural narratives and fill in perceived holes to help explain the anomalous or extraordinary.” I’ll look at different cultures across time and space, and what they view as anomalous or extraordinary circumstances, and the different ways in which they recourse to paranormal or supernatural explanations for those circumstances.

I’ll also look at how different cultures conceive of analogous supernatural beings, from ghosts to werecreatures to nocturnal visitors. Finally, I’ll bring things forward to the present and look at how modern popular culture affects paranormal beliefs and experiences. Modern pop culture has inundated us with flying saucers, alien abductions, ghost orbs, and crop circles, and there’s scientific evidence that our perceptions of such things are heavily influenced by their portrayal and popularity in the mass media.

This talk will be perhaps the most academic of all of our talks. I’ll be drawing on disparate fields, from cultural anthropology to folklore to media studies, and, with some work and some luck, I’ll pull together the different threads into a wide-ranging and thought-provoking presentation.

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Talk: "Cargo Cult Science"

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on February 8, 2010

Today I’m gonna give you a brief look at an event called “Cargo Cult Science.” “Cargo Cult Science” is a two-man talk given by me (Don) and Tom Foss. We will, in the grand tradition of Richard Feynman, examine Melanesian cargo cults and expound upon their utility as a metaphor for pseudoscience.

This talk will be an expansion of a single slide from last year’s “Skepticism, Critical Thinking, and Pop Culture” PowerPoint that really entranced the audience. I had inserted a single slide about cargo cult science and expected it to be a quick throwaway before moving on to the next topic. As it turned out, the great majority of the audience wasn’t familiar with cargo cults at all, and so I gave a brief explanation of them, which everybody seemed to find fascinating. For this year I thought “Go with what works,” and decided to spin it off into its own talk. After all, it’s such a useful metaphor.

Then, of course, I found out that Richard Feynman had already covered cargo cult science, which made me feel a bit sheepish, but kind of awesome at the same time. After all, I’m in some good company.

The talk will begin with a more detailed description of the history and formation of cargo cults. From there, we’ll move into cargo cults as a metaphor for pursuits that are all style and no substance, that mimic the external trappings of a thing without replicating or understanding the internal workings. Pseudoscience, of course, does precisely that with real science: pseudoscientists may toss about scientific-sounding words, they may wave around high-tech gadgets, and they really think they’re doing science, but at the end of they day, they don’t understand at all what science really is.

We’ll also extend the metaphor to as yet unexplored territory: cargo cult skeptics. Yes, they exist, and it’s only fair that we talk about them, too. If you’ve ever met someone who utterly dismisses the existence of bigfoot but can’t tell you why, or who has strong opinions on scientific topics but isn’t familiar with logical fallacies and the scientific method, you’ve met a cargo cult skeptic.

“Cargo Cult Science” will cover a little anthropology, a little philosophy, and a lot of pseudoscience. Hopefully, by the end of the talk, the audience will have obtained a new understanding of science and a useful heuristic for telling science and pseudoscience apart.

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Panel: "Skepticism, Critical Thinking, and Pop Culture"

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on February 7, 2010

Today, I’m going to start a series of posts detailing the events that we have thus far planned for Gen Con. I’ll begin with the centerpiece of the whole scheme, our big two-hour skeptical panel titled “Skepticism, Critical Thinking, and Pop Culture.”

We ran a previous version of this panel last year and it went far better than we could have expected. We had a larger audience than we thought we would, and lots of people came up afterward and thanked us for running the panel. They said it was most unexpected.

This year, the panel will be reworked and much improved. First off, we’ve altered our lineup. Myself (Don) and Sean will return, and Tom, who had to bail last year to attend a wedding (but did help us with the material) will be taking his proper place at the table. Coming with him is Jon Maxson, who attended Gen Con with us in 2008 but did not help with last year’s panel. Unfortunately, Rob will likely be leaving us to seek graduate studies in whatever state his soon-to-be wife will be living in come August. We’ll miss him, as he complied lots of our alternative medicine and antivaccination information last year, but we wish him the best of luck and hope the panel won’t suffer for his absence.

We’re also changing formats. Last year we went in a sort of serial lecture format, which had a couple of downsides. First off, it was kind of dry; it lacked life and dynamism. Though most of the audience didn’t seem to mind, we want the panel to be as engaging as possible. Secondly, it limited banter and interplay between us panelists and made it less a panel and more of a, well, serial lecture. It also gave us little control over our time restrictions, and as such, we had to lose a lot of our material because we had packed in too damn much.

To help correct all of these problems, this year we’re going with a “Choose Your Own Adventure” model. Instead of us deciding what the audience needs to know, we’re going to let the audience pick what they want us to talk about. We’ll present them with a bunch of options to choose from and then let them have at it. We’ll riff on one choice for a while, and then let them pick another. Our topics are drawn from TV, books, movies, and the headlines; in other words, we’re tearing through as much pop culture paranormalism as we possibly can in two hours.

The topics we’ll cover include (but are not limited to):

  • Ghosts and ghost hunting
  • Cryptozoology (e.g. bigfoot, Nessie, Mothman, etc.)
  • UFOs and alien abductions
  • Crop circles
  • Alternative medicine and those who promote it
  • Conspiracy theories
  • Astrology
  • Psychics
  • Advertising claims (e.g. HeadOn and anything that promises to lengthen “that special part of the male anatomy”)
  • 2012 apocalypse!
  • Pseudoarchaeology (e.g. Atlantis, the Nazca Lines, etc)
  • Crystal skulls
  • The curse of Tutankhamen
  • The Bermuda Triangle
  • Spirit possession
  • Popular quote mines
  • Deepak Chopra, Choprawoo, and What the Bleep Do We Know?
  • Nostradamus
  • Water woo

Once we’ve run through our topics (or hit the 90 minute mark, whichever comes first), we’re going to follow the panel with a Q&A titled “Stump the Skeptics,” where we invite the audience to hit us with their craziest, most esoteric woo-woo claims and see what we can make of them. We hope to be surprised and have a lot of fun, and we hope that the audience does, too. Last year most everyone seemed to.

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