Your vanity writing sucks. Fix it!

Elaborate on the merits of specific tournaments or have general theoretical discussion here.
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Ike
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Your vanity writing sucks. Fix it!

Post by Ike »

These days everyone is writing vanity packets on subject specific things. While I enjoy more quizbowl and enjoy playing some of them, I think it's worth taking a step back and just talking about their creation as a whole. I understand that the stakes are kind of low here, but I think the general principle is also applicable to normal quizbowl, so bear with me please. Warning: this post reeks of circle-jerk, music mafia like mentality, and intellectual masturbation. In particular it reeks of James Bond and JRPGs, so deal with it or stop reading.

Good vanity packets are hard to do well: you have to make it challenging to the audience, and you have to make it accessible. I think the majority of vanity packets I have played has had errors in one or both of these categories.

Let's talk first about making it accessible. I think vanity packets are much more interesting if the giveaways are accessible. For my James Bond packet of 15 tossups or so, here were my answers:
Motorcycles, New York City, hotels or motels, (sniper) rifle, Japan, Valentin Zukovsky, License to Kill, Wint and Kidd, Rosa Klebb’s shoe,. James Bond being tortured in Casino Royale, policemen or sheriff, Elliot Carver, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and the fight scene in New Delhi or the fight scene in India
If you'll notice, around 60% of the answers are on easy things with real giveaways. If you have only seen the Bond movies once, you can probably get 90% of these answers by the end. That was done on purpose, and people writing vanity packets should be doing it more and make it feel less circle-jerky.

For ACFNATIONALS, a JRPG tournament, I knew that Rob Carson, Tejas Raje, and Dylan Minarik were probably the better players of the field, - I didn't think they have encyclopedic knowledge of JRPGs - no one does*, each one of them may probably only have beaten 20-30 RPGs that are longer than 40 hours – and the majority of those games are probably Pokemon and Final Fantasy. So I wrote the tournament from there. If you’re assuming that people can name a single character from Shin Megami Tensei II, or Ar tonelico III: The Girl's Song that Pulls the Trigger of World's Demise, fuck you! One thing that shocked me about ACFNATIONALS was that 35(!) people showed up for it. I think that’s partly because it was well advertised, but also because the tournament was designed to be accessible.

Now let's talk about making vanity packets challenging. I think it would be wise for more vanity packet authors to consider the knowledge base of their audience. For example, my Bond packet clued from the movies, games and books. I assumed that people had pretty encyclopedic knowledge of the films, and middling knowledge of non-Goldeneye games, somewhat deep knowledge of Fleming's books, cursory knowledge of non-Fleming books and wrote it accordingly. Therefore, if I were clueing from Raymond Benson's books, it would be a very superficial clue AND a leadin etc. I also wanted to find upper middle clues that were distinguishing, in my mind, reaching deeper and deeper into the Bond films isn’t really testing more knowledge. I think a lot of the packets that I have played don't adhere to this, and it's stupid.

For ACFNATIONALS, Billy, Andrew Wang and I wrote the tournament with common links so we could mix in clues from all games. So that meant clues from games that say, only 1/10-1/2 of the field has played (like say Final Fantasy XIII-2) could be sneaked in as middle clues without clobbering people.

One more thing about vanity packets and what people know. They are designed to bring a smile to people’s faces. Some of my favorite buzzes of all time include Mike Cheyne’s first clue buzz on Wint and Kidd, or Benji Nguyen’s first clue buzz on Friedrich Nietzsche in JRPGs; if you know about Final Fantasy X, the tossup on Shoopuffs was designed to bring a smile on your face (and it did!) Point is: the reason why vanity packets exist is that you can get what Billy Busse has called a “satisfying buzz” out of them. Writing your tossups in such a way so that there are no satisfying buzzpoints is one of the hallmarks of shitty (vanity) writing. So for example, a shitty tossup on say the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies might leadin with "The first commercial for this film shows X." Seriously, no one fucking cares unless it's otherwise memorable!

Lastly, I want to point out something about vanity packets. Part of the reason I have been able to get away with being so circle-jerky about RPGs is that I actually write a fuckton of good questions, and do other useful things for the quizbowl. Therefore, after say writing ACF Nationals 2015, I felt it was OK to be a weeb for a while. But, you’ll come off as less of a dipshit if you actually write good questions elsewhere in addition to your vanity packet. It’ll also make your questions suck less, since presumably you’ll actually have learned a thing or two about writing in general.

*For those of you who don't know how big the JPRG rabbit hole is and want an example: Consider the ~Persona~ series, a pretty well known series of JRPGs that is tier 2 famous: Persona 4 takes around 150 hours to complete completely, Persona 3 about 131 hours, Persona 2, about 52 hours, and Persona 1 about 80 hours. That's not counting Persona 5, which is coming out soon. Nor is it counting Persona's mother series, Shin Megami Tensei, whose games also take a long (hundreds of hours) time to beat. There's also a series of spinoffs called Devil Summoner ... and about ten more games of spinoffs that are all RPGs. Further case in point: Billy and I have been compiling a master list of all JRPGs in English on a private doc. All the Persona and Shin Megami Tensei games take up four lines on a normal word document. Our document is over 7 pages long and we're still not done.
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Re: Your vanity writing sucks. Fix it!

Post by Majin Buu Roi »

Completely besides the point, but Shin Megami Tensei IV is where all of my high level myth knowledge comes from.
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Re: Your vanity writing sucks. Fix it!

Post by Oh No You Didn't »

jasongg17 wrote:Completely besides the point, but Shin Megami Tensei IV is where all of my high level myth knowledge comes from.
Now just wait for that myth toss up on the mad gasser of mattoon
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Re: Your vanity writing sucks. Fix it!

Post by The Ununtiable Twine »

Bubalus Period wrote:
jasongg17 wrote:Completely besides the point, but Shin Megami Tensei IV is where all of my high level myth knowledge comes from.
Now just wait for that myth toss up on the mad gasser of mattoon
who knows, it might come up at culex - you never know :twisted: :twisted: :twisted:
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Re: Your vanity writing sucks. Fix it!

Post by AZQuizbowl »

Note to self: Even though I thought vanity packets were just for fun, I was wrong. Scratch that dog breed packet I was going to write to benefit the animal shelter this year. Wanna make sure I don't look like a dipshit.
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Re: Your vanity writing sucks. Fix it!

Post by AKKOLADE »

No one's making you a victim but yourself.
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Re: Your vanity writing sucks. Fix it!

Post by Cody »

AZQuizbowl wrote:Note to self: Even though I thought vanity packets were just for fun, I was wrong. Scratch that dog breed packet I was going to write to benefit the animal shelter this year. Wanna make sure I don't look like a dipshit.
I'm afraid you may be too late.
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Re: Your vanity writing sucks. Fix it!

Post by Auks Ran Ova »

AZQuizbowl wrote:Note to self: Even though I thought vanity packets were just for fun, I was wrong. Scratch that dog breed packet I was going to write to benefit the animal shelter this year. Wanna make sure I don't look like a dipshit.
Lest anyone else pointlessly throw themselves on a pyre out of a sense of pique, I'd like to step in to make sure this thread stays calm -- I split the JRPG-specific stuff off because I knew that was a much more specific set of grievances and, though they were certainly what sparked this thread, I thought the OP had some reasonable points mixed in with the righteous Ikean anger. Allow me, if you will, to creatively distill them:

-When you're writing a vanity packet, make sure it's fun to play. The nature of vanity packets is such that people generally understand what they're in for going in, so be honest when you're representing its nature. Try to maintain a sense of accessibility.
-The audience for vanity packets is generally composed of two sometimes-overlapping groups: people who care as much about your niche interest(s) as you do and people who will play absolutely anything as long as they haven't heard it yet. The latter group will generally understand when something is specifically keyed to the former group, as long as you don't misrepresent it ahead of time.
-Don't act petulant if your questions aren't received well, especially if by the former group above. We all miss our targets sometimes--learn and grow.

The most important of those points, I think, is the first one. This thread, arising from the particular circumstances it did, makes all of this out to be a lot bigger deal than it needs to be. Most people are just happy to play new and different questions, and will forgive variable quality for the sake of novelty and informality. Don't let this instance of nerdrage scare you off of the general idea of producing questions for fun.

Furthermore, whether Bunnie's post was an honest expression of doubt or a fiendish plot to make us all sad about puppies because she didn't like some posts, I'd like to take this opportunity to announce that by summer 2017, I will have produced a long-awaited spiritual successor to Bruce Arthur's Wild Kingdom, with the intent of donating half or more of the proceeds to my beloved local Animal Humane Society, regardless of what Ike posts in the interrim.
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Re: Your vanity writing sucks. Fix it!

Post by AZQuizbowl »

Glad to hear it, Rob! I love it when we can combine the things we love to benefit different causes.

My post was a result of frustration at a number of attitudes in the community by a very small number of people who seem to have a sense of grandeur. Anyone that knows me (as most of you do not yet) will know that nothing, especially others' opinions, will stand in my way of making sure puppies get love. :)

I just wish we could all take a step back from ourselves and realize that sometimes fun is just fun, and there's not a need for this overarching, passive aggressive "advice" like the OP is spewing. Like, maybe I'm just naive but can't we all just write questions and play them and enjoy ourselves?

I look forward to your packet, Rob!

EDIT: Signature has been edited because someone pointed out that the irony wasn't always obvious
Last edited by AZQuizbowl on Wed Jun 01, 2016 11:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Your vanity writing sucks. Fix it!

Post by Cheynem »

As someone who has written a lot of vanity packets (Andrew Hart said I invented the Internet packet, and people as varied as Ryan Westbrook and Ted Gioia have lamented my influence on vanity packet writing), I'll offer the following insights. I should note that I didn't play the packet that initially drew Ike's ire, nor do I have any idea what it was about.

1. Reaction is somewhat proportional to how much build-up you give it. The "random packet announcement" thread is great because people write things for fun, they read them to the Internet, and a good time is had by those who choose to play it. Same with Festivus. Are all of these packets great? No. Nobody complains because it's just something fun to do on the Internet. If, though, I ran all of the packets I wrote as a full tournament where people showed up with buzzers, people might have higher expectations.

2. There's two things people want in vanity packets. People who know stuff want to show off their knowledge in a good way and be challenged. They also want to be entertained with quirky clues and the occasional baffler answerline. A good vanity packet balances all of these things. I think having a tossup or two or three that go dead is fine in a vanity packet if it's an entertaining answerline.

3. People can write on whatever they want to write and people will play it. My rule of thumb is that as long as it's not intentionally offensive, diverting time/space/attention away from legitimate quizbowl, and it's realistic about its quality, have at it. You don't have to be a top writer or great player/contributor to write a fun packet to read at a practice, online, or at a restaurant with friends.
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Re: Your vanity writing sucks. Fix it!

Post by naan/steak-holding toll »

I just wish we could all take a step back from ourselves and realize that sometimes fun is just fun, and there's not a need for this overarching, passive aggressive "advice" like the OP is spewing.
I wouldn't dismiss Ike's point or aim so quickly. If your questions are bad, then for a lot of people it's not going to matter how "fun" your topic if low question quality prevents people from getting points for knowing things about topics. "Fun" shouldn't mean an exemption from standards and notions that, for the most part, serve to make quizbowl experiences more fun! People are probably going to be somewhat lenient about these things anyways if you're a new/infrequent writer; on the other hand, when you've been a consistent feature of the quizbowl circuit for over a decade and can't conceptually grasp what people might know/realistically be able to answer, people may be rightfully frustrated!

Good vanity packets are, of course, fun, because they're good quizbowl questions. However, I think it's better for people to write bad academic questions than bad vanity questions, because at least the bad academic questions can hypothetically get edited into good ones (for side events or submission tournaments) and serve the purpose of helping to train people to produce more good academic questions, which is something we always need.
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Re: Your vanity writing sucks. Fix it!

Post by touchpack »

Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:
I just wish we could all take a step back from ourselves and realize that sometimes fun is just fun, and there's not a need for this overarching, passive aggressive "advice" like the OP is spewing.
I wouldn't dismiss Ike's point or aim so quickly. If your questions are bad, then for a lot of people it's not going to matter how "fun" your topic if low question quality prevents people from getting points for knowing things about topics. "Fun" shouldn't mean an exemption from standards and notions that, for the most part, serve to make quizbowl experiences more fun! People are probably going to be somewhat lenient about these things anyways if you're a new/infrequent writer; on the other hand, when you've been a consistent feature of the quizbowl circuit for over a decade and can't conceptually grasp what people might know/realistically be able to answer, people may be rightfully frustrated!

Good vanity packets are, of course, fun, because they're good quizbowl questions. However, I think it's better for people to write bad academic questions than bad vanity questions, because at least the bad academic questions can hypothetically get edited into good ones (for side events or submission tournaments) and serve the purpose of helping to train people to produce more good academic questions, which is something we always need.
A++++++++++ post that captures the essence of the issue at hand.

I'd also like to remind everyone that "funn" is a term that exists. The argument that you shouldn't complain about something because it is supposedly "fun" is ludicrous and honestly, deserving of public ridicule. This is the exact same argument that was used to defend CBI!
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Re: Your vanity writing sucks. Fix it!

Post by The Ununtiable Twine »

Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:
I just wish we could all take a step back from ourselves and realize that sometimes fun is just fun, and there's not a need for this overarching, passive aggressive "advice" like the OP is spewing.
People are probably going to be somewhat lenient about these things anyways if you're a new/infrequent writer; on the other hand, when you've been a consistent feature of the quizbowl circuit for over a decade and can't conceptually grasp what people might know/realistically be able to answer, people may be rightfully frustrated!
Let me reiterate my point that I made in the other thread that this is exactly why I wrote my packet the way I did. Since there's not a lot of data out there regarding what is answerable and what is not (in my niche topic, at least), I wanted to gather some. Hence, when I do in fact produce a set that I plan to charge people a few dollars a pop to play, people who are both in that narrowly defined group of "elite quizbowl/JRPG hybrid players" or whatever are somewhat properly differentiated between, but at the same time, it's a fun experience for everyone who plays. It's hard to know exactly what people are able to answer on these topics without being, say, one of their best friends. It just is. My theory is that people can answer way more than the writers of the previous set claim they can. I'm sorry if I took anyone off guard with my demonic packet, however I did advertise the packet as being "a bunch of hard JRPG questions". I can't help but notice that people are saying that I can't conceptually grasp what people might know but don't actually offer up their own opinions as to how I could possibly write an accessible set without making it too challenging (except for Ike, whose main thesis on the topic I understand but ultimately disagree with because I don't think it captures the grand scope of things). In fact, I wrote the packet to pursue the answer to the question of what is/isn't accessible! I'm not the one failing to understand things here. I will continue to write and my set (you know, the actual set) will be accessible. Why? Because I'm writing accessible questions for it, that's why. The existence of that evil packet will make perfect sense in retrospect even if it doesn't make sense at the moment.

Note: my theory is that, just a theory. Am I not allowed to experiment? Some sets are better than others, in real quizbowl and in vanity stuff. For instance, could we produce a set of the quality of 2011 Regionals given only, say, 2005 or 2006 Fall as our only guideline for what good quizbowl is? Of course not! There are only like a couple of sets of this stuff ever created, so yeah, I think it's a little unfair to expect a masterpiece without a little bit of experimentation. I would most definitely like to produce a masterpiece, but I figured it would require a little experimentation. I'm not comparing Ike and Billy's set to ACF Falls of the past, I'm just giving a specific example as to why I think it's a tad unreasonable for you guys to expect a beautiful set out of me and my potential co-writer(s) without a little experimentation and more than one or two decent sets to go off of. This is not the world of academic quizbowl we are talking about in this case. Far from it, in fact. I needed to explore some nontrivial avenues. Sorry if it turned someone to stone.
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Re: Your vanity writing sucks. Fix it!

Post by AZQuizbowl »

The Ununtiable Twine wrote:
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:
I just wish we could all take a step back from ourselves and realize that sometimes fun is just fun, and there's not a need for this overarching, passive aggressive "advice" like the OP is spewing.
People are probably going to be somewhat lenient about these things anyways if you're a new/infrequent writer; on the other hand, when you've been a consistent feature of the quizbowl circuit for over a decade and can't conceptually grasp what people might know/realistically be able to answer, people may be rightfully frustrated!
Sorry if it turned someone to stone.
Amusingly Jake, on this note, when I first started thinking about writing tossups on dog breeds (which is MY niche), it occurred to me that I actually had no idea what the average person knows about dog breeds, and my fiance was subject to roughly 30 minutes of me asking him questions like "do you know what breed the president's dogs are?" and "did you know the Rhodesian Ridgeback was bred to fight lions?"

I can definitely see the fun and maybe even the necessity of a packet that turns people to stone, especially if you're unfamiliar with what even the average person would know, much less the average quizbowl person. I'm interested to see your results, Jake!
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Re: Your vanity writing sucks. Fix it!

Post by Cheynem »

Just a note, that again, I think different expectations and contexts matter in the "funn" discussion. The "funn" argument for CBI was stupid because it cost money, took up time and resources, and was supposed to be a national championship. Free side events or IRC packets that are read some evening are different contexts. I don't really think this is that complicated--write what you want, but if you don't write well, people might not like it.
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Re: Your vanity writing sucks. Fix it!

Post by Auks Ran Ova »

The Ununtiable Twine wrote:a giant wall of text
Auks Ran Ova wrote:-Don't act petulant if your questions aren't received well, especially if by the former group above. We all miss our targets sometimes--learn and grow.
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