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Conversation with Jason Vizcarra-Brown

Jason delves into game development, tech industry greed, his real-world experiences with landlords, the importance of crafting a beautiful prose style, along with when he first used the self-label of libertarian socialist.

Conversation with Jason Vizcarra-Brown

Jason Vizcarra-Brown (he/him) is an embedded software engineer and story game designer from Los Angeles, California. He spends his days shouting about labor history and his nights shouting about fictional labor history. You can follow him on Twitter @Blooperly_, and check out his role-playing games at

Jason is the author of “The Magnetic Gospel” from Radon issue 6.

Q: Is your real-life experience with landlords similar to the one in your Radon story?

I’ve been lucky enough to rent only from friendly, fully human landlords so far. The Discman is certainly a charicture of their worst impulses: avaricious, self-satisfied, and prying; but his real sin isn’t his disposition, it’s his relationship to a resource that everyone needs. I think it is naturally undignified to capture housing and milk it for profit, no matter how nice you are interpersonally. I hope that one day we see housing as something more than an investment.

Q: How did you develop your prose style that beautifully verges into the poetic?

Ursula K. Le Guin, one of my favorite authors, has often said that writing is about “more than just communicating a message.” It is textured, musical, filled with meter and rhythm. I think good fiction demands that you say something worth saying, and that you say it beautifully. In practice, though, that is pretty hard to pull off. Reading your work out loud helps. For this story specifically the opening line was in my head for a long time before I wrote the rest. “The Discman presides, loathsome and gray, over his magnetic empire . . .” in the same way that Yeats’ rough beast slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.

Q: When did you first describe yourself with the label libertarian socialist?

Americans, sadly, are taught very little about socialism, and even less about anarchism. The standard assumption is that socialists are pro state authority, and anarchists are anti-society. Therefore I chose a label which would confuse everyone equally; and especially infuriate right-libertarians.

Jokes aside, I became interested in leftist politics in college after reading a lot of Marx, Kropotkin, Proudhon, and Goldman. I was convinced that radical egalitarianism is worth pursuing. Left-libertarianism predates what most Americans think of when they hear the word, and has been hugely influential in anti-fascist movements in France, Spain, Syria, and the Unites States. I like the label of libertarian socialist, because it emphasizes the goal of my politics (liberation) and the path I see leading there (a radical reorganization of labor and property).

Q: What is your opinion of the many (endless?) adjectives anarchists use to describe themselves?

There is no one clear path to the world we want to build. Every person must have their own hand in making the future, and to that end knowing what you believe is useful. The different flavors of anarchism are all beautiful, nuanced, and only sometimes incredibly annoying and divisive.

Q: What are your proudest moments advocating for labor?

I take so much inspiration from the American labor movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was a time when workers were forced to use collective power, and at times violence, to earn many of the protections that we rely on today. Every evening I am grateful for the Haymarket martyrs; anarchists who were unjustly killed by the state while advocating for the eight-hour work day.

Unfortunately, the industry I work in has not been historically amenable to unionization. Tech workers are starting to realize the need for collective labor power, but there is still a lot of work to do. I really appreciate the IWW’s stance on direct action in the workplace—you don’t need to wait until you have a formal union to exert worker power. Discussing your wages, building friendships with your fellow workers, and standing up for yourself and others in the workplace are all important. That is what I focus on today, until the day we have the power to do something more.

Q: What draws you to game development?

Making games, like fiction writing, is an exercize in death. You spend hours creating something that no one else will understand in the same way that you do. No matter how hard you try, there will always be so many half-thoughts and associations that never make it into the text. In a lot of ways, I do both for myself. I get to craft something that is mine, and then I get to let others make it their own.

Q: How do you go about collaborative storytelling?

There are a ton of independent tabletop RPG designers who are creating innovative and engaging systems to tell stories alone or with others. Many of them feature less tactical combat than your traditional old-school RPG, and more intentional design to inspire good storytelling. It’s amazing what kind of memorable stories you can tell by working together.

If collaborative storytelling sounds interesting to you, you should check out Our Queen Crumbles, my weird-fantasy road trip game about revenge and inevitable death. Or you could read some of the wonderful games that inspired mine: Fall of Magic by Ross Cowman, The Quiet Year by Avery Alder, and For the Queen by Alex Roberts.

Q: Do you see the current trend of “software or games as a live service” is coming to an end, or simply another symptom of continuing corporate greed?

We have only seen the beginning of rent-seeking behavior from tech companies, and it is going to get a lot worse before we find the will to stop it. Every job I have worked in software development I have seen pressure from the financial side of the business to find new ways to charge licensing fees, service charges, and subscriptions instead of one-time purchases. It is becoming less and less possible to own the software you use, the games you play, and the music you listen to. Capitalism is great for innovation, as long as that innovation is finding a better way to exploit artists and consumers to steal a bit more profit.

That said, I think there is a lot of hope for the future in the open source software movement. Most people don’t realize this, but our modern world is built on technology developed not by corporations for profit, but by mass collaboration and human passion. Linux alone accounts for the vast majority of the backend of the internet, alongside a million different open source libraries and tools which make every piece of modern technology possible. I hope that one day we live in a world where boundless creativity triumphs over the small, mean impulse to hold what we make too tightly.

Q: Is the web browser idle game you’ve been working on the past few years near completion?

My next big project, Chasm, is an incremental game about filling up a bottomless pit, and the pitfalls of pursuing accumulation at the cost of all else. This is my first web game, so I’m still in the process of learning as I design. I imagine it will be a while before it is worth playing. In the meantime, I would highly recommend Universal Paperclips by Frank Lantz, which is a game about an AI tasked with turning the entire universe into paperclips.

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