The Beating Heart of Fandom

Today is T-14 days until my 40th birthday, and the Reconnection Project has empowered me more than I ever thought it would. Today, I start the process of moving beyond me... Let the games begin.

Fandom is an action and a community.

The Last Air Bender from Shore Leave 32

When I say fandom is an action, it is a bunch of actions.

  • Reading and writing Fan fiction
  • Creating, sharing, and discussing Fan theories
  • Listening to, writing, and singing Filk
  • Sharing, making, and viewing Fan Art
  • Fan Vids
  • Fan films
  • Cosplay
  • Costuming
  • Roleplaying
  • Fan games
  • etc...

Every fan has their own way of participating in fandom. I used to participate a lot more than I do now. And that changes today.

When I stopped everything in the depths of my depression, I stopped playing in the fandoms I love.  I cut myself off from the fan communities I used to not only participate in, but I cut myself off from the people I used to interact with.

Community and fanac (fan activities) go hand in hand, especially now in this age of the internet.

We are defined by our actions

I cannot say that enough to myself or to you.

Ideas in your head stay in your head and if you aren't careful, they will cage you in there.

Life is action. If you want to live a life of compassion, you have to engage in acts of compassion or you are not compassionate. The same is true with everything.

If you want to define yourself by what you love, you have to engage in loving actions.

In fandom, that means, we have to share what we love and promote it. Don't let yourself be passive. Passivity is silence, and silence is nonexistence.

Take your voice back! Take your life back! Share your love with the world. 

Some people might think this is a silly or trivial thing, but it isn't.

My love for Yoda says something about me. He represents wisdom, inner strength, and the ability to find humor in any situation. These are all qualities I admire and desire in myself. When I see my Yodas around the house, it works as a symbol which draws up all these connections in my unconscious mind and strengthens those qualities within me.

Some people might think that is taking all this too seriously, but that is how mythology works.  It is a subtile effect on us, but it effects us all the same. By choosing to surround myself with these images, seeking them out, and sharing them, I am participating in the mythos. Ever time I quote Yoda, I am participate in the mythos and strengthen those qualities in me. 

Don't think that these are some kind of solemn acts. Solemnity isn't required for actions to have effects on our selves. Sometimes they are moments of catharsis, and sometimes they are pure frivolity.  

Today's Task: 

Find at least one thing you love and participate in it.  Share a picture, a video, read some fanfic, watch a fanfilm, or at the very least watch or listen to something you love.

Let me know how you are participating in the things you love.

Project: Shadow Manifesto

Project: Shadow Logo To mark the 10 year anniversary of the Project: Shadow Manifesto, we thought it was time to overhaul it again, but this time to open up the project to all of the like-minded fans out there who are tired of the status quo, and who are hungry for something new. Brian and I drafted the original Project: Shadow Manifesto in 1999 as an outline we saw in professional publishing.  The original draft was heavy on problems, light on vision, and even lighter on solutions.  We took years investigating the limited options available at the time, built the original Project: Shadow, and I started writing.

In 2004, we revised the manifesto, and re-launched Project: Shadow.  The new draft focused on the solutions possible through new technologies.  The world/culture presented us with newer challenges.


We are fans.

We love our music, stories, characters, and settings. We know about what we love. We participate in what we love. We support what we love. What we love supports us.

At heart, a fan is not someone who enjoys a movie, a song, a band, a book, or a show.  A fan feels an intense connection with the object of their love.  Fans decorate their homes, offices, and desktops with items that announce their allegiance with their favorite bands, movies, shows, and books.

The problem with our popular culture is that it doesn’t blink at a sports fan wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with their favorite team, or even a replica jersey, but wear a Star Wars shirt or dress like a goth and they think they have the right to mock you.

What is the difference between a fan wearing a jersey to a game or fan bringing a light saber to a movie?  Or for that matter, what is the difference between a sports fan painting themselves up to go tailgating or a fan dressing as their favorite character at a convention?

Perception.  Pop Culture has classified sports fans as acceptable and speculative fiction fans as geeky.  I have to say, it is just as geeky to now all of the stats for everyone who has ever played for a particular sports franchise as it is to know the stats for every creature in the Monster Manual.  The only real difference is one fan accepts they are a geek, and the other pretends their geekiness is proof they are a jock.

The disapproval is the least of the problems facing today’s fan.

From Storytellers to Copyright

Problem: People are natural storytellers.  We hear a story, embellish it, and pass it on.

Solution: We tell each other stories, sing songs, write books, make videos, and create art to share these stories with each other.

Every story we tell is not original.  We like to tell the same stories over and over.  We borrow stories from any where and retell them in our own vernacular.  It is intrinsic to who and what we are to share stories with each other.

Problem: The only constant in the world is change.

Solution: We ask ourselves the question, "What if," and share the answer with each other.

Problem: Artists and Writers need to make a living singing their songs, writing their books, making their videos, and creating their art.

Solution: We establish systems of Copyright.

The Cultural Cycle

Before the era of Copyright, stories, heroes, melodies, and lyrics belonged to the people.  Stories were told, and retold.  Numerous visions of each story competed against each other.  The best were remembered, collected, retold, embellished, and built upon.  The rest were forgotten.

Who told the first story about Hercules? Or Jason? or Troy?  Who started the legends of King Arthur? or Beowulf?  The first tales and their countless reiterations have been lost, but the best, most iconic stories survived.

Of all of Shakespeare’s plays, only a few comedies have no obvious sources, and even they rely upon well established patterns and archetypes.

This is the Cultural Cycle that keeps important stories alive.  Each generation must retell the tales of the preceding generations in their own context to keep them relevant.  This cycle has been broken.

  • Problem: Companies lobby to prevent Intellectual Property from reentering the commons of the culture.
  • Problem: Companies control the instruments of culture, making it harder to engage culture creatively.
  • Solution: Fans retell these stories as not for profit tales, films, and  songs.
  • Solution: Fans organize themselves into clubs and conventions.

These solutions are are not enough.  Fanfiction and film relies on the good will of the copyright holders and the fact that the fans do not make money from their works to slip through the thinnest of loop hole in copyright.  As a result, pop culture is unaware of the cultural developments and retelling of these new stories.  The subculture may be enriched by them, but the culture as a whole is not.

The Creative Commons and the Cult of the Dollar

Problem: Publishers and producers focus more on the commercial and popular value of a work, and the creative energy of the work suffers.  Readers/viewers will not become fans, and fans will not continue to accept passionless works of Speculative Fiction.

Solution: Placing honesty over consumerism, we fans must stake out our own home to create and share the works we love.  We must stand between the darkness and the light:  This is the purpose of Project: Shadow.

Problem: The Companies and Rights holders lashed out against the fair use of their properties.

Problem: Some Rights Holders have lulled fandom into a false sense of security by not suing and even encouraging those who produce fanworks

Creative Commons is one of many proposed solutions to this problem.  Others have lobbied for copyright reform.  Neither of these is a solution to the problems.

Copyright reform is a doomed enterprise while corporate lobbyists have the power they do over the congress.  While it is a goal to work for, it is just not realistic in the short term.

Creative Commons is closer to a solution, but the adoption rate has not been sufficient to even start chipping away at the problem.

The reason Creative Commons is an uphill battle is that it is a major evolution in the way rights holders handle permissions to use their work, and exists without an intermediary form.  Existing rights holders have not adopted it because they are unwilling to give up all the rights entailed under Creative Commons.

I approached the Creative Commons Foundation with a proposal for a Fan Works License:

Some of the rights holders I have talked to are reluctant to use the CC because they are concerned they are giving up too many rights to their works.  A Fan Works License would allow rights holders to clearly state what they will allow others to do with their characters, content, and settings.

It would be a bit more complicated than a standard CC, stating whether others may make original text, video, music, or art projects based on their works.  It would also allow them to set the content rating they would allow fan works to have.  This could be aligned with the MPAA ratings or the ESRB ratings system or an original system.  The reason for this is so a young adult novelist could set a max rating of PG-13, allowing others to know what standards they would apply to determine whether a fan work is legitimate or not.

The other terms would be the same as in the standard CC.

You may not think something like this is necessary, but the current state of fan works is hazy.  While few have been sued in the last couple years, at any time, rights holders could decide to start suing again.  By creating a license that covers works with the same characters and settings rather than a particular book or movie, I believe we could get more rights holders to use the license to allow for the creation of fan works, which is a step on the road to open up works to the commons.

They responded with a simple, “CC probably isn't going to be expanding the license offerings, and in fact, over the past few years CC has been reducing the number of licenses.”

I do not believe that a fanwork or Creative Commons license is the ultimate solution, but as a possible stepping stone toward an open culture.

Progressive Speculative Fiction

  • Problem: Modern and Post-modern fiction is antithetical to hope, imagination, and community
  • Problem: Success is easier through snark, hate, and discrimination.
  • Solution: We will promote, support and create Progressive Speculative Fiction.

What is Progressive Speculative Fiction?

Progressive Speculative Fiction is a story told in any medium which has a "What if" at its core and is filled with hope for the future and promotes a sense of community.

How can disaster fiction be progressive?

Watch a Godzilla movie or either The Day the Earth Stood Stills.  If there is nothing worth saving, then there is no tragedy.  The heroes must at least try to save someone or something worth saving.

How can horror be progressive?

Watch nearly any horror film made prior to 1990 or for the best example read The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker or anything by Anne Rice.  If life is not worth living or there is nothing worth defending, where is the horror.  If life is worthless, then death is merely a release from a nightmare.  There is nothing scary about it.  If there is no free will, nothing is lost by imprisonment or possession.  If sanity is not worth preserving, why bother.

What works are Progressive Speculative Fiction?

There are too many to mention all of them, but to offer a spectrum:

Just to name a few.

Mythos

  • Problem: The word "Myth" has become a marketing term.

Homogenized works are released more often by the industry every year.  Focus groups and market analysis have replaced quality work, but since the cultural cycle is broken, industry has no alternative.  It is safer to release works like the ones that sold last year than it is to seek out new talent/ideas that would be more of a risk.

They know what the fans want.  We want myths, stories that speak to us on a deep level while entertaining us.  Myths are hard to make.  It is easy to add in a wizard or a starship and call it mythology.  Fans see through it, but the masses are looking for little more than sex, violence, and humor.  Speculative Fiction has been watered down to little more than:

  • imitation space opera
  • knock-off cyberpunk
  • repackaging of the rings
  • martial arts boom-boom
  • torture porn

They, then, wrap it in a shiny box, slap the word myth, saga, legend, or reboot on it, and wait for the masses to spend their money on it... and they usually do.

We do not need another company driven by profit margins, or another author whose self-important propaganda obscures the art.

We need writers and artists that love what they are doing.

We need fans who are not afraid to speak their minds.

We need places in our towns/cities and online where we can meet and share the few gems that we find from the industry and from the independent artist, writers, and filmmakers who are still following their bliss rather than the dollar.

That is why we are here.  Project:  Shadow and dashPunk will provide a platform for writers, artists, filmmakers and fans to “follow their bliss.”  We are dedicated to finding and promoting the best Speculative Fiction out there: the little/well known writers, filmmakers, artists and works, fostering their talents, and helping them to not only follow their hearts, but to share that vision with others.

But we cannot do it alone!

Fandom Strikes Back

  • Solution:  We must seek out and support the writers, artists, and producers that encourage and support fan works.
  • Solution:  We must get writers, artists, and producers on the record about their position regarding fan works.
  • Solution: We must live according to our values of hope, imagination, and community.
  • Solution: We must build a community around hope, imagination, and community, and reject the rote cynicism that defines the faux-fandom that loves to tear things down rather than build things up.
  • Solution: We must spread the stories, videos, songs, and art that speak to us.

Together, We can make dashPunk and Project: Shadow more than an idea or a website, but a vibrant community of fans who share the things we love with each other.

Together, we can make it easier to find and share the things we love and find new things to love.

Together, we can build a community of fans who support and engage one another for our mutual benefit.

Alone, none of us can stand up to the corporate powers who control the music, video, text, and art that we love, but together, our voice will be heard.

Fandom is a vibrant culture with its own music (filk), events (conventions), games, and myths.  Until now, we have gathered periodically, or in disparate groups. 

Now is the time to bring the great multitude of fan bases together.

Now is your time!  Copy this Manifesto.  Print it, post it, email it, share it!  Tell a friend, and most importantly Make your voice heard.

Download

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Creative Commons License Project: Shadow Manifesto by Project: Shadow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at dashpunk.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://dashpunk.com/about/.

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What is Mythology?

Before we can make any in depth study of Mythology, we have to understand what we are dealing with.

First, it must be understood that mythology is more than just the tales we have inherited from Homer, or the brilliant Sagas of the Norsemen.  It is even something more than "other people's religion," as Joseph Campbell used to jokingly say.

"A whole mythology is an organization of symbolic images and narratives, metaphorical of the possibilities of human experience and the fulfillment of a given culture at a given time (Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That, pp1-2)."

Myths are found in literature as well as in religion.  They speak to somewhere deep in our unconscious mind, and if we are lucky, they will instinctively guide our development.  Even though many of these myths change us through a process not unlike osmosis, it is important for us to learn how to recognize a myth, so we can choose whether or not we want to assimilate it into our lives.

Now I do not have the time or space in this essay to detail everything that needs to be said on the subject.  That is the purpose of the Foundation section of the website.  For now, I will focus on what I see that the most important aspect of mythology: how it functions in our individual and collective lives.

Where do Myths Come From?

"First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20-21, NRSV)."

This is perhaps the most misunderstood passage from the western tradition.  Many have used it to try to show the superiority of their particular theology over their rivals.  Others have disregarded it altogether, but it does answer the question of where myths come from.

Let's take a look at Joseph Campbell's explanation of the origin of myth, and pay close attention to how these two answers overlap:

"Mythology is composed by poets out of their insights and realizations.  Mythologies are not invented; they are found.  You can no more tell us what your dream is going to be tonight than we can invent a myth.  Myths come from the mystical region of essential experience (Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light, p xix)."

No one can invent a myth, but I would also contend that there is nothing spooky going on here either.  What is the difference between a myth and a good story?  The myth speaks to something deep down within our souls.  They tell us that their is more to the story than we caught at first glance.  Great stories don't.

This is not because some spook is whispering arcane secrets into the poet's ear, it is (more often than not) because the story took on a life of its own and carried the poet along with it.  It is only when the unconscious mind is active in the creative process that a myth can be born.  We all carry these forms within us.  It is for the artist to step aside long enough to let them show through.

A good example of this is George Lucas.  He set out to write a new myth, but found that it would not cooperate with him.  He had writer's block.  Eventually, he put aside everything that he wanted to write about, and just wrote.  Star Wars is undoubtedly a triumph of the muse over the artist.

Once a myth is found by the poet, and they share it with society, it will take on a life of its own.  All myths operate in society in four ways.  In this, they help to shape culture, and are in turn shaped by it.

Mystical Function

"The first must be to open the mind of everybody in the society to that mystery dimension that cannot be analyzed, cannot be talked about but can only be experienced as out there and in here at once (Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light, p 5)."

This is where most western religions break down, and it is the aspect of modern myth that is most often overlooked.  The Mystical Function of a myth is to help the participant to realize that the outer forms that are portrayed are emblematic of the forces at work within the psyche.

Out there is really in here.  This is the first secret.  In the Matrix Trilogy, the mythic dimensions open to us when we see that the Matrix itself is symbolic of our mind, but the flood gates open when we can see that Zion is as well.  All of these outer images speak of internal conflict.  We all have our own Agents in our heads trying to fight against us.

Why do these aspects of our psyche come into view through these stories?  Because they are beyond naming, beyond analysis.  I will view the agent in completely different terms than you will, since he takes on aspects of our own inner struggle.  If I used something other than this mythic image, I could only explain my own inner demons, and you may or may not be able to relate.  Once it is concretized, it can only speak to my condition.  As a symbol it can speak to our condition.

The Architect and the Oracle are the best examples of what I'm talking about.  Many people I've talked to have compared them to God and the Devil, but few agreed on which was which.  Even when they did, they couldn't agree to why.

We can also see these images as symbolic of the collective psyche of our culture or world.  As you can see, they still reveal the hidden indefinable aspects of our culture in terms that are useful to our minds, while leaving them open to interpretation.

That is the first function of myth: It speaks to the individual and the culture simultaneously, and helps them to see what is going on within them.

Cosmological Function

"The second function of a mythology is to present an image of the universe that connects the transcendent to the world of everyday experience (Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light, p 5)."

I really don't want to get into the issue of whether or not there is a god, that is a topic for another set of articles.  What I am talking about now is simply "The Transcendent."  Whatever that might mean to you: God, energy, higher dimensions, or the driving force of history itself.  There is something that transcends our ordinary experience.  Maybe it is something as simple as love, or cosmic order; but the question is, how does that relate to me?

In Babylon 5,  the question is approached from many angles.  Basically, a scientific answer is elevated to a level of cosmological significance: we are the universe trying to understand itself.  Here, the universe, the very unadorned ground of being is presented to us as the transcendent mystery, and we are fragments of that universe trying to comprehend itself in the only way it can: from the inside.

If this presentation of the mystery has any resonance within us, it provides a metaphor to understand our relationship to the transcendent.  Now, we have a window into our own everyday lives that we can use to understand why we are here, and what is the purpose of everything.

Sociological Function

"The third function is to present a social order by which people will be coordinated to the mystery (Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light, p 5)."

This is perhaps the most dangerous and controversial aspect of mythology.  The social order depicted is always tied directly to the same era as that the myth was composed in.  Very few myths are truly timeless.  Most are filled with archaic views that must be refuted for the myth to have any relevance in the modern world.  We do this all the time, often without even noticing.

Should we blindly accept these outdated concepts, we become a danger to ourselves and to civilization itself.  The news is full of examples of what I'm talking about.  We only have to look at the pro-lifer who shoots a doctor to "save lives," or the events of 9/11.

That is why it is important to regularly question everything, even our most basic assumptions and beliefs.  It is not enough to just question, we have to be prepared to give up any belief we find to be false.

The Sociological Function of mythology does have a positive side.  It builds communities and fills them with a sense of common purpose.  The American Dream is one such myth.

Star Trek is a great example of this.  After being on television for only three years, it spawned a large community that grew, and even thrived in absence of any real input from those who created it.  Star Trek embodied the ideals of honor, courage, and IDIC.  IDIC is a concept indigenous to the Star Trek Universe: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination.  The diehard fans of the series have taken these ideals to heart and actually try to live by them.  For all of the scorn heaped on the phenomenon, I think a lot of good has come out of it.  What better ideals for people to base their lives on?

This new social order arose from the myth of its own accord, and led many people to a better understanding of their place in the universe.

Vital Function

"Finally the fourth function of the mythology is to carry the individual through the course of life (Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light, p 5)."

From birth to adulthood to marriage to children to death, myths provide a pattern to help people understand their lives and give meaning to them.

For me the music of the band Queensryche has served this function quite well.  Not alone, I do have other influences, but they have developed with me.  From their albums Rage for Order and Operation: Mindcrime that helped me in my confused teen years, to Empire that opened my eyes to the real world around me, their music has been a companion sharing insight with me when I needed it most.  When I went out on my own and found out just how evil the world can be, Promise Land came out and helped me to realize that I was not alone, and their was a better future to work for.  Ever since 9/11, I had found myself in a haze.  Nothing seemed to make sense anymore.  Then came Tribe.  They gave words to my pain, a cure to my nightmares, and renewed hope for the future.

In every stage of my life so far, they have told a tale to illuminate the way.  That is the Fourth Function of myth.

Unconventional Myths

I have used many different mythologies to explain the four functions of myth.  I could have used just one for all of them, but I wanted to illustrate a point.  We don't have to choose one mythology to the exclusion of everything else.  Each of these myths have something different to say, and each one speaks to the soul in a different way.  Together with many others, they have helped me to be the best me I can be, and that is what all myths are meant to be.

Some people may object to me calling some of these myth:  "They are just entertainment.  Aren't you taking them too seriously?"

The answer is no.  Myths are discovered, not made (remember?).  Science Fiction, Fantasy, horror, and non-classical music are usually relegated to a second class status to more "realistic" genres.  They are no less capable of delivering insight than Joyce or Hemmingway.  Much ink has been spilled on them, it is time to open the closet and let the other genres out to have their moment in the sun.

Footnotes

The scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, Copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

Life as a Story

I went out to write at the San Francisco Bread Company today. The longer I write, the more I realize how important it is to get out of the house, even if it is only to sequester myself at a small table in a cafe with my headphones on listening to music, surfing the web, struggling with new concepts and editing a book I wrote that I actual enjoy reading. It is odd how something as simple as a change of venue from my office to a cafe can change my mood and energy level, but I have read enough from other writers to know that I am not alone.

I have a theory about why something as simple as a change of venue can so profoundly effect a writer's mood.

I started writing as a defense mechanism. As a child, I grew up on a farm miles from the closet kid my age. I spent most of my time either on the phone, outside with my dog Red, or in my room inventing new stories with my Voltron and He-man action figures. When this wasn't enough, I started drawing crude comics and playing out a sort of paper theater with playing cards and my imagination. Through all this, my imagination was fueled by He-man, She-ra, Transformers, the books of Edgar Allen Poe and Mark Twain, and the fantasy world of Dungeons & Dragons. I didn't have anyone to play with, so I spent my time making up stories about these fantastical creatures, demigods, and demons. The music of Kiss and Dolly Pardon filled my nights in my room watching "Too Close for Comfort" dreaming of the day I would write my own "Cosmic Cow" strip.

When we moved to Maryland, things got worse. I had a strong accent, which got me beaten up in school a lot, and I had not people skills so the few friends I did make really had to work hard to get past my clumsy social interactions. I didn't know how to relate with these "people." They were so different from me, and they expected me to know how to act with them. I just didn't.

My salvation came through The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and my knowledge of Dungeons & Dragons. I played these games with them as a means of interacting. They gave a structure to our together time and gave me a common language to speak. In time, we added Marvel Superheroes, Robotech, Earthdawn, and the many classic White Wolf storyteller games- Vampire: The Masquerade, Were-wolf, Mage: The Ascension, Changeling: The Dreaming. In fact, I became friends with Brian through a Vampire Chronicle.

Through this role as the storyteller, Star Trek Fandom, and my near obsessive interest in music, I found my medium to talk to others.

Storytelling is who I am. It is how I comprehend the world and explains why I am so deeply involved with the works of Joseph Campbell. This is who I am for better or worse. From the many biographies about other writers I have read, I think we have all taken up the life of a storyteller as some sort of defense mechanism or way to make sense of the world. It is easier to lock yourself away from the world than to jump in and struggle within it.

When I force myself out of my cave, even if only to isolate myself from the settings I find myself in through headphones and work, it reminds me that the outside world is still there. It lets me see how people actually interact with each other, for better or worse, and on those rarest of occasions, allows me to have incredible conversations with people face to face.

It is hard to explain how isolating is can be at times to be a storyteller. The hours, days and weeks spent locked away from the world crafting a reality that I hope others will experience and enjoy with the same fervor that I do. The simple act of seeing other people and hearing other voices enlivens me.

Like other writers, I am an observer of life much more than I am a participant in it. These little glimpses of the world outside my friends and family and the characters I write about (feels more like with sometimes), grounds me and helps connect me with the bigger world that is so easy to let slip away.

I wish more people shared this experience. Looking out at this world of strangers that I may or may not ever see again, and watching the plots they have entwined themselves in. We all tell our own stories. That is the art of conversation, to weave an entertaining tale about ourselves and others. As these plot lines co-mingle and intertwine, the story of our family, friends, city, state and nation are told. These stories often matter more than the facts. (whether or not that should be true or not is a whole other discussion).

I recommend that you give this a try. Next time you are out with friends, watch the stories that you are telling each other closely and follow them out as if they are plot lines in a novel, movie, or television show. It is startling how often you can predict other peoples actions by listening to their backstory, current plot, and projecting that out as it would play out in the genre appropriate to the person. I am not saying that this is always the case, but more often than not you will be able to see what will happen before it does. This is also the best way to choose your course of action. How will your action effect the other all story. Try it out, I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

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