Hello, everyone!

It’s been a while since my last newsletter, but it’s the most wonderful time of the year (for me), so I figured I’d check in with a big ol’ ramble about April Fools’ Day and the difference between a joke and a lie.

Not a lot of tea otherwise—I’ve been really busy!—but I hope this glass is comforting regardless!

Tell Me Sweet Little Lies

selective focus photography of Pinocchio puppet
Photo by Jametlene Reskp / Unsplash

For many people on the internet, April is arguably the most digitally trying time of the year: the moment when our capacity for digital literacy is so highly and bitterly tested that it is better to simply not assume that anything that happens online is true than the alternative.

I’ve been curious for some time now whether April Fools’ Day was always this fraught. I ponder about living in a time before the internet was even a dream of our future communication, where the news from distant places only ever spread over the phone or on television—or even further into the past, where it only happened days later in person, or by letter even later still. This holiday must have been an even bigger curse even then—for one day a year, doubt may have been the only way to make it through a deluge of misinformation and pranks in order to actually learn something.

Of course, the internet doesn’t necessarily make this phenomenon better. Arguably, all it can ever do is make it worse. In this cursed period past the birth of the browser, where search engines are deliberately broken to disincentivise trusting them as research process, scammers and botfarms are trying to game engagement with any minor topic and harass you into clicking malware links, and soon machine learning will make it harder for us to trust our very eyes and ears, while conventional media is slowly fading away or even giving in to the worst of these tactics to stay alive, it definitely feels like the only way to know that a thing is true is to have been there when it happened.

And yet, people—and especially corporations—still do April Fools’ Day, even when it gets in the way of knowing what is true?

Well, one of the things I think about when it comes to the few April Fools’ social media posts that actually work, at least for me, I think about the difference between a joke and a lie. Namely, that a joke needs you to be able to read it. A lie doesn’t.

I like Razer’s social media around this time of year, for instance. The beat of Razer’s best April Fools’ posts are always that this would be an unnecessarily exaggerated version of a thing gamers actually want. Wouldn’t it be rad to have a drone camera you can control with one hand? Or to get your energy drink fix intravenously so you never needed to leave your room? Do you care so much about this brand that you’re willing to burn it into your toast? This year’s joke, the Razer Cthulhu, legitimately answers a question I wish a purchasable item could answer—you ever want to curb unnecessary distractions while at the PC—with the reckless solution that is “just turn your gaming chair into Doctor Octopus”.

What’s strange is that in a Polygon piece written in the aftermath of Project Breadwinner, the aforementioned toaster prank, now-former Razer global creative manager Kian Naderi says there is a core pattern to a Razer April Fools’ joke:

It has to be semi-plausible. It has to be able to fool someone without being just funny. It has to be relevant. It has to be aspirational, something gamers want.

I find this strange for a very obvious reason: very little of that is actually happening, and a lot of its assumptions, to me, actually sell Razer customers tragically short. Yes, there may always be a non-zero number of people who may potentially buy into anything, but I can’t imagine why anyone would also want a toaster powered by USB, for all kinds of very good and solid reasons besides the fact that even the most reckless of us probably want anything other than toast prepared in our bedroom next to the computer.

They’re right that it is semi-plausible. That’s what works. It is on the line between reasonable and absolutely ridiculous, but it is not balanced. Gamers like fancy chairs and hate being called away from the game just when they need to clutch up—but while it would be kinda cool and funny to solve a problem this way, no one wants their gaming chair to have tentacles. We buy in, we continue to be invested, because we know that it is absurd.

So what doesn’t work? Just plain lying.

So much of what makes this day so challenging is when you simply say a thing that would be good and nice and enjoyable, or deliver what would otherwise be really tragic or upsetting news, with a straight face and never qualify it. To be sure, real news still has to exist on this day, and that is why not being clear otherwise can be so disheartening. The guy who said on Threads that Apple was making dual-tone pastel MacBooks obviously wasn’t trying to be cruel, but there isn’t anything about that ‘joke’ that is… you know, funny or dramatically revealing. It just took a thing people thought would be nice, and… said it happened.

There are much weirder and more bitter versions of the same failures to be funny, like posts on Twitter about French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal ‘joking’ about sending troops to Ukraine only to apologise soon afterward—a pair of tweets I cannot even corroborate because the apology is no longer on Twitter, so whether it was an actual tasteless joke by a freshman prime minister or an attempt from bots to smear the name of a gay politician escapes me.

I don’t hate April Fools’ Day. I think, when done thoughtfully, it is a wonderful opportunity for like people to share a laugh about the core assumptions of the space they inhabit. I also think that, when we engage with it as critically as possible, it can be a wonderful day for us to draw on multiple object-lessons in digital literacy. But otherwise, you suddenly have to tell the difference between a cool gaming chair and an international incident.

Tasting Notes

With that being said, it can be good to look back at what are considered otherwise ‘good’ (even if cringe) April Fools’ posts, if at least as an attempt to truly study what about them can be fun without being dishonest—how we can be fools without being suckers. With that being said, The Verge has a rundown of what I think are some of the most solid examples of the year. It bears noting that this has been a bit of a quiet one—the one example above notwithstanding, not a lot of truly unjustifiable references came by this time around.

By the way, my personal favourite is SciShow’s, if you’re asking.

A reminder that this newsletter, as well as the rest of my writing and game design work, thrives with your support. My Patreon is where you can find snippets of new TTRPG projects, exclusive writing drafts, and more:

Today's Tunes

My writing-brain has been saturated with Everything Everything songs lately.

I’m absolutely sure I’ve mentioned this band, and their 2022 album Raw Data Feel, all across the internet, but having fallen back into the album for writing inspiration has been kinda transcendent for me. Have you ever re-listened to an album you already knew from top to bottom and discovered you actually really deeply loved a song that once just kind of rushed past you? That’s how I feel about ‘HEX’, which is now so powerful in my brain that it has inspired an entire project (that I can’t get to yet, not until I finish the current novel).

Their latest album, Mountainhead, is so enrichingly its own kind of lore that I feel like it is not so much inspiring my writing as it is a story I am reading out of its own order as I listen, and that has been inspiring in its own way. Almost all of it has triggered the idea for a long-form actual-play series I do not have the patience to produce, but I am always excited to imagine it. Maybe these songs will be your jam, too.

The Leaves

A reminder that you can help keep this newsletter and the rest of my work afloat by supporting me on Patreon, buying me a coffee on Ko-fi or sending a donation via PayPal, or by buying one of my small game projects over on Itch!

Also, here’s a thing: at time of posting, it’s my birthday! A wonderful way to support me for the next few days is to join my Patreon, share this newsletter, or buying from my birthday bundle on Itch!

I will also have some more convention things to talk about soon, but for now, a reminder that I’ll be at the Gen Con Writers’ Symposium this August—and that later this April I will be at my home book event, the Bocas Lit Fest, where many other wonderful SFF writers will also be in attendance. I am always particularly excited when speculative fiction gets the spotlight at Bocas, so if you’re gonna be in Trinidad in late April, you should definitely pass through!

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed the tea!

A Bottle of Sparkling Water: Lying With You