Archive for Personal Essay

On Destiny and “game widows”

Destiny

“I hate this,” I piped up.

“What,” said Ted.

“Can I be honest?” I asked my husband-to-be. “Work, I don’t mind. Playing games, I don’t mind. This? This kills me. I hate this. I don’t like feeling like your mother. I’m not your mother.”

Then I gave the Destiny alpha my most damning condemnation:

“I don’t appreciate being made to feel like I don’t ‘get’ games.”

If I thought I’d loathed the Destiny alpha, wait’ll I witnessed the beta, which launched this month.

“Can you text the petsitter?” Ted asked me in a low voice. Our flight had just landed in Philadelphia.

“And tell her what,” I harrumphed. We were on our way to Aunt Doris’s house. The day after next, we were going to a massive family reunion, Ted’s. That night, we were heading to New Jersey to visit the other half of the family, also Ted’s. I hadn’t slept in at least a day. I was cranky.

“Can you ask her to turn on the PS4?” Ted asked.

He whimpered this. He was genuinely hurt—hurt!—that he wasn’t playing along with others during the Destiny beta.

And he was holding his Vita: He was planning to stream Destiny, from our living room in Texas, onto his Vita. The petsitter, meanwhile, was coming to the house twice a day to give my dog meds, walk her, feed the cats. On July 14, the petsitter had given my dog her heartworm pill.

“Are you,” I asked Ted, and I took a deep breath, “shitting me?”

“No?” Ted whispered.

“Absolutely not!” I bellowed. (We were standing at the airport’s downstairs baggage carousel.) “No! No, I am not doing that! I am not texting our dogsitter!”

After two long days of Ted’s visible suffering, I handed him my phone. “There,” I said.

On the screen: an iMessage exchange, in which I describe, in excruciating detail, how to plug in our television and its periphery, and how to turn on a Playstation 4.

“Thank you!” Ted said to me, with sincere gratitude.

His enthusiasm was short-lived, of course. “It isn’t working,” he sighed, setting his Vita on the kitchen table. How my heart thrilled to see him put the Vita down. He looked miserable.

I felt my heart’s thrill, and I noted it. “I hate feeling like I’m your mother,” I told Ted again. I quivered. “I just hate it.”


In actuality—and please, never reveal this to Ted and his family, because I do like being spoiled—I am a low-maintenance woman. In truth, I can subsist for years at a time on zero attention, like an emotional camel.

Still, I am familiar with the concept of the “game widow” because—in the olden days, anyway—she was everyone I was not. In the olden days, I was the video game player; I was the one staying up till 5am typing. Oh, your girlfriend doesn’t play video games? You wish she’d “get” it? Puh-leeze.

In my fifteen years of dating, I have turned many a boyfriend into a “game widower,” ditching him on Night Out, rushing off during intimate moments, surely leaving him feeling, always, strange and impotent.

I remember, in the much older olden days, my mother walking into my bedroom and pointing toward my computer. I had probably refused to come to dinner until I was “finished.” “I wish we’d never bought that thing!” she hissed. I was 13.


Some years ago, there was a book titled Game Widow, authored by one Wendy Kays. Married to a video game developer herself, Kays’s book was intended as a relationship advice manual for women.

Instead of offering real advice, though, the book is an indictment. “Addiction” is a word used time and time again. Worse, the book conflates the games industry—long hours spent in programming and development—with video “gaming,” or leisure time. As anyone in the industry knows, these two values are not commensurate.

Ted is a game developer foremost, a hobbyist second. I’m exactly the same way. Ted knows I get angry or frustrated at interruptions, no matter whether I’m working or playing a video game, but I know the two are very, very different. I know it’s not too much to ask, to be left alone anytime I’m typing an essay.

But if I’m playing Dyad? An interruption can be frustrating, because hello my attention is diverted from you. But that isn’t how leisure time works. There is an unspoken rule that, if I am playing Dyad and suddenly I am needed, I must quit Dyad.


Why Don’t Game Widows Play Video Games, Too?” Wendy Kays titles a 2008 Game Widows blog post. She begins,

All game widows are pressured to try video games at some point. Many gamers actually buy games for the non-gamers in their lives, in an attempt to entice them into playing. Most gamers have pure motives for wanting their game widows or widowers to play. They know their spouse, their parent, their child, is not happy during the time they play, and want to include them in the pleasure they get from their game. But some just hope that if the naggers play too, they’ll stop protesting.

So why is it game widows won’t just play video games, too?

First:

Puh-leeze, I definitely thought to myself in 2008.


Destiny, Ted explains, is a living world, “like an MMO.” As such, there is no “pause,” Ted says.

Ted and I are getting married. I need him to sign his name to something, probably some contractual thing. “Teh-duh!” I intonate, separating his name into two distinct syllables. My clarion-call carries across the house.

“Just a minute!” he yells back from the living room. A half-hour passes. He’s on the Vita for at least two more.

Later, Ted tells me there is no “pause,” not in the sense where games often have a “pause.” He isn’t even playing multiplayer; he is on a solo mission. “I can’t put the game down,” he explains to me, helplessly.

This, I do understand.

I am not angry with Ted. I am furious with Destiny, however. Due to a design flaw—in this case, the flaw is with a game that cannot be paused—I am finally experiencing true relationship strife.

Destiny is only playable for the next couple days, or so Ted informs his mother, who is in turn only visiting for the next couple of days. She and I are waiting for Ted to set down the Vita.

It is so easy for me to become Ted. Ted is playing the game correctly, which is to say, he ignores me until any solo mission or match is finished, just as the developers intended.

Thanks to Destiny, and by Destiny’s very design, I become the howling woman in the living room, begging Ted to find a stopping point. I hate it. I hate it. I am now the worst type of “game widow.” I am a complete and total nag—I am a woman who needs Ted’s half of things done—while simultaneously understanding I am some sort of hypocrite.


“Why don’t you just create a Destiny character?” Ted idly asks me, his eyes fixed on the television, his hands on a controller.

By now, Ted has been playing for days. I suppose that’s normal for a “gamer.”

“No offense,” I say, and I say this lightly, “but I no longer have any desire whatsoever, to play that fucking idiot game.”


“Are you not going to mention the fact,” Ted recommends to me, “that I talked about all this on Twitter?

“And about the lack of pause?” Ted concludes. Now he smiles at me: “I got a ton of support from dads.”

That’s very nice, but instead of feeling sorry for dads, I feel sorry for moms.

For a while, Ted and I had a Pokemon problem: Ted hid in the bathroom to play. I knew what he was doing, too, because literally nobody can shit that much. And I was annoyed. Unless I locked myself into the toilet, as well, I couldn’t keep up with him. I stopped playing Pokemon after one week because—cooking, cleaning—I knew there was no way to catch up with Ted’s toilet breaks.

I am only angry because I imagine my eventual children imagining me as the fun-killer.

Of course, before I met Ted, I wasn’t going to be married or have children at all. Now I am (already!) the fun-killer. I am the woman who watches her husband disappear, and I am upset, and that is what makes me, according to my own set of ethics and virtues, a bad person.


The Destiny beta finally ended, and Ted immediately began playing Titanfall.

“Ted-duh!” I yell across the house.

“Just a minute!” Ted shouts. And, thanks to Titanfall’s design ethos, it’s true.

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The Map Is Not the Territory

tomodachi

I do remember some things about my birth father.

I do remember his impossibly long stride as he came down the airplane’s gangway. I remember his brown guitar case in one hand, his duffel in the other. I remember the worn leather patches on the elbows of his corduroy jacket. I remember the way his sly smile swelled into a boyish grin as he walked toward me.

I was nine years old when this happened, but I do know that this memory is almost certainly correct.

It’s almost certainly correct because I rarely visualize that moment at all, and also because I’ve never, ever written about it, or even discussed it.

So I’m sure the memory is “real,” see, because I haven’t screwed the memory up yet.

***

Tomodachi Life is a video game about avatars.

At the game’s outset you are invited either to import Miis—these are avatars usually created each by its own maker—or to recreate your family and friends entirely from memory.

You may also specify, for each of these avatars, whether that character is “related” to you and, if yes, how: You can assign relationships like “father,” “mother,” or “sibling.” (Presumably this is all to safeguard your avatar from an ugly romantic pairing.)

You can also tell the game whether an avatar is your “spouse,” but Tomodachi Life doesn’t seem to take that particular type of relationship into account—the game apparently match-makes couples at its own whim, whether or not you’re IRL-married.

Once a Mii is either imported or designed fresh, you may assign any number of characteristics to it. Perhaps she walks quickly, or talks quickly. Perhaps his gestures are broad and ebullient. Maybe she is extremely self-serious; perhaps she is “relaxed.” You can also tweak settings until an avatar’s vocal tone, timbre, and cadence are exactly correct. The avatar goes on to read game text aloud in its bizarre digitized voice.

Once you’ve assigned X-many values, Tomodachi Life evaluates the avatar’s “personality” using a rubric resembling the Myers-Briggs. In this way, one friend—a slow-moving, serious woman—is a “confident brainiac.” Another—a quick-moving fellow with a flair for the dramatic—is an “outgoing” showboat.

***

“But Ted,” I teased my fiance, “this is the old you.”

“Don’t delete me!” Ted cried. “Didn’t you fall in love with the ‘old me’ when we first met?”

At the beginning of my Tomodachi Life, there were only two Mii avatars in my “MiiMaker,” one of whom was a thinner, clean-shaven Ted.

I initially hadn’t realized I could import more Mii avatars through the 3DS’s Streetpass Plaza; now I had two Teds to contend with. There was the out-of-date Ted I’d downloaded from our WiiU a year earlier, and then there was the new, up-to-date Ted I’d streetpassed just this week.

And since Old Ted’s avatar and mine were the only two avatars on the island at first, my Tomodachi Life “lookalike”—the game explicitly refers to your doppelgaenger as a “lookalike”—had already begun to fall in love with the Ted of Last Year.

“Fuck it,” I told real-life living-with-me Ted. “I’m just gonna delete Old Ted. While I still have a chance, you know?”

“Don’t do that!” Ted insisted, suddenly and weirdly attached to the Old Ted Avatar.

“Look,” I replied lightly, “I’m sure she’ll eventually fall in love with New Ted.” Here I meant, once I’d deleted the old WiiU avatar, my “lookalike” would fall in love with the next-newest cast member, Ted From a Week Ago. After all, I’d marked this character as a “spouse,” too.

She didn’t.

Instead, my doppelgaenger wanted to romance two of her male colleagues. “No, no, no!” I shouted at the tiny screen. “This is all wrong! This is so wrong!”

The dissonance didn’t end there. One avatar, one of my best guy friends in real life, insisted on having a haircut. “I’m tired of my hair,” his avatar harrumphed.

NO, I told the game.

No! Because my friend doesn’t need a haircut, or if I do give him one, how is he supposed to resemble himself?

I dressed another avatar in clothes she would approximately wear. “She doesn’t like it,” the game grumbled at me. I shopped for clothes until I found an ensemble she’d hate.

“She loves it!” the game told me giddily.

***

In-game I can set another avatar as my “father,” “mother,” or “sibling.” But in life, I can’t. Oh, I could fudge the facts a little, sure. I could invent a little avatar of my best friend and call her my sibling for the hell of it. I could make avatars of Ted’s parents and recast them as mine.

Sometimes, in-game, I wonder how—if I were made to try it—how I might design an avatar of my birth father.

I don’t remember his face very well. I do remember his ash-brown hair, his green eyes, and his eyelashes, which were long and black and curled like a cartoon’s. I remember that he was grand and lanky, at least to a nine-year-old girl. I do remember his twice-broken nose.

But, trickily, I don’t actually remember what any of these details look like. Rather, they’re ideas of memories. They’re things I remember remembering.

Now, when I try to remember the details of his face, there is no memory. Instead, I find my head filled with simple mental sentences—“He has green eyes.” “He has ash-brown hair”—and the still-frame images I ought to have of him are instead replaced with entire spoken paragraphs.

***

There is a picturebook on my shelf, ‘Stories Every Child Should Know’, copyrighted 1936. It is bound in fine blue fabric; its title is printed in barely-faded gilt. My adoptive mother used to read to me from it because her mother used to read aloud from it, too.

Ted never had a chance to know my adoptive parents. He’s never met any of my family. I sometimes joke that, as far as he knows, I made them all up. It’s a sick joke: He moved into my childhood home with me, so that we’re surrounded by photographs of them, and books.

I opened the picturebook to its first page and, automatically, Ted began to read aloud.

“Stop it!” I screamed. “Please, stop!”

Ted looked at me, confused and hurt. I caught my breath.

“Please,” I said, quieter now, “please, please don’t do that. You’ll overwrite the… I still have a distinct memory of my mother reading, and you’ll overwrite it.”

Ted nodded grimly.

“You can overwrite it someday,” I conceded, “if we ever have children. I mean, we’ll have to. We’ll have to read out loud. But I’m not ready for that.

“But also,” and I started to laugh, “also, you’re reading it wrong.”

***

As I’ve uploaded my friends’ avatars to Tomodachi Life, I keep guessing at the characteristics I think they might give themselves. “How would this person describe herself?” I am always wondering.

Still, I am acutely aware that I am the one who is, in fact, authoring their personalities.

To my credit, they seem enough like themselves. My close friend Daphny, according to the game software, is a “trendsetter,” which she really is. A friendly colleague was designated as an “outgoing” “leader,” which I liked for him. Ted was given the “showboat” personality, which I guess is sort of true. (“I love being the center of attention!” my fiance’s avatar shouted at me. It rang tinny: Maybe Ted does love being the center of attention, but he would never say so.)

As I imported a friendly acquaintance’s avatar, though—and this avatar belonged to a someone I haven’t seen in at least a year—I began to wonder if I had his “personality” wrong. And if I did have his personality wrong, wasn’t that… unfair? Sinister, almost?

Because, if I do have him all wrong, I’m memorizing this backward version of him, cementing that version of him in my head, instead of knowing him for the way he really is.

I began to overthink it. I began to worry.

In a sense, aren’t I doing that to every friend in Tomodachi Life? I am secretly writing my own mental sentences about people I’ve met, and I am making those sentences permanent.

It’s almost like when someone appears to you in a dream, and he says something wrong, and you’re angry at him the next morning even though he never really said that thing.

***

My adoptive mother appears in every single dream I have. Whenever I wake up, if I can remember the dream, I make sure to remind myself that I was the one who wrote both halves of our conversation.

***

I do remember the way, as he disembarked the plane, my birth father’s stride lengthened. His little smirk broadened into a grin.

I remember his smile because one of his front teeth was missing.

That one excrutiating detail changed his appearance so much, somehow. He looked so different to me. I think I must have taken a step back.

My birth father stopped several feet away from me. He stood there motionless. His smile faltered.

I remember this, not because I can picture him without his teeth, but because I remember my sudden, deep embarrassment.

I remember my birth-father pausing in his walk toward me. He stood there, silent. Finally he said, “Daddy got some teeth knocked out.” I nodded, and we left the airport that way.

In one particular memory, I can see a gold cross earring dangling from my birth father’s ear. It is a half-inch long, gold-plated, jittering from his earlobe and catching the light.

I probably remember his earring because I asked him why he was wearing it. He told me it was because we were going to church. It was his church earring.

***

Tomodachi Life is a game about avatars.

More important, it’s about the avatars you create. It’s entirely about how you choose to remember others.

The problem with nonfiction writing—the problem with remembering anything, ever—is that, with each act of remembering, the photograph might fade. With enough remembering, the mental image dissolves completely.

With enough remembering, I am left with an oversimplification, an abstract map of a memory. I am left with a mess of so many sentences about a person, with just a cartoon of a face.

I cannot remember my birth father’s face.

I can remember specific details, but none of these is a salient fact about his appearance. Every feature is a mistake. I’m left with elbow-patches on his sports jacket, his boyish, toothless grin, and that’s it. That’s all.

The map of places passes. The reality of paper tears.”

***

This review of Tomodachi Life is based on an earlier piece of writing, “Lapse,” from 2004.

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I get angry, too

Helen Keller

Recently, online, I picked a battle that isn’t mine to pick. Relief finally came in the form of an email. “My wife and I are Quaker,” the letter-writer explained; I was immediately overwhelmed.

My mother never identified Quaker as such, but when she was new to Christianity she was mentored by a Quaker, by a man called John Steiner. She spoke of this person a lot. She took certain ideals to heart and, although she would certainly tell you that her message, as transmitted to me, got all mixed up, some ideals really did glom onto me. I am anti-war; I am terribly conflict-averse; I believe in compassion and inclusion. I still identify as Christian—and make no mistake, I have several crises of faith in a single day—but none of those crises has anything to do with whether God, as I interpret Him, composed human beings lovingly in His own image. (Mostly my crises are about me being a shitty person. I am trying to learn to become more patient with myself.)

Principally, though, I am terrified of my own anger. Very few people have witnessed it, but they can tell you it’s an ugly, remarkable thing, a thing that gets away from me before I can grab back onto it and rein it to shore again. Like most people, I figure, my anger usually has something to do with an issue of “justice.” When I have been at my very angriest, my mother used to sigh—oh, my mother!—and warn me, “Jenny, don’t talk to people that way.” Now, here in her shadow, I am beginning to think she is right.

I understand the argument against “tone arguments.” I also hate tone arguments. It’s usually an unfair thing, this gambit is, demanding the other person sacrifice all emotion—indeed, all humanity—for the sake of being “calm,” “reasonable,” “rational.” These are loaded terms, denying a speaker all the emotion—which is, absolutely, another type of data, what we call “experiential data”—he or she is feeling. Women especially are socialized to couch their assertions of opinion with words like “I am beginning to think” or “sometimes I get the feeling,” which are all ways of preemptively apologizing for holding any opinion or valueset at all. Even now I’m using a type of passive speech, as a defense mechanism, certainly, so you will not feel like hitting me.

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“Allow Natural Death” post-mortem (AKA “thanks”)

For fuck’s sake, Internet. What are you even trying to do to me.

I laughed and cried a lot today. I did those two things at my laptop, and also in the real world.

I have had the strangest—and yes, since you are wondering, the drunkest—week. (I try to warn against using alcohol as a crutch, because that attitude is dangerous, but there’s also a palpable reason nine or ten brain-murdering beers are popularly accepted as a legitimate type of “truth serum.”)

Ah. About this week. Here are all my work-related updates: in a career highlight, my friendly acquaintance Maura interviewed me about Boyfriend Maker, an iOS game. My ire at a dictionary became a hot story at Boing Boing. For one brief, shining moment, women in the games industry suddenly became an important subject, and I was privileged to add my voice to their numbers.

Today people contacted me privately, sometimes about my mom’s death, but sometimes about my ongoing patience and generosity (ha!) as I’ve gleefully engaged in online conversations about misogyny and misandry. Some of those private remarks—again, remarks on both topics, death and sexism, really weird for me—came from people from my past: old roommates, classmates, coworkers, friends from junior high who also knew my mother. Thank you.

It is a wonderful feeling, sometimes, just to not be alone. It is why anyone logs onto the Internet ever.

Meanwhile, in real life, a pastor friend invited me to a poetry slam. Another family adopted me for Thanksgiving. My best friend drove over to my house with toilet paper because I can barely take care of myself. I recently made a phone call to my local Internet service provider’s billing department, and when I gave the woman—a complete stranger—the name on the account, she fell silent. “Girl,” she said finally. “Oh, girl.”

There is nothing so debilitating as crying while you try to pay a stinking bill. I also consistently cry at the veterinary clinic.

Since September, every day of my life has been a challenge, a battle, a chore. The things I do every day—all boring, unfortunately—are my biggest, saddest, most boring secret.

I hope I only share the good parts, though. Actually—and it’s strange to admit this, even as life as I once knew it has effectively crumbled—mostly there have been only good parts.

I am going to write about games writing now, AS I DO. Here are some quick thoughts, organized in no way whatsoever.

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I get tired of talking about it, too

rambo thoughts

Man. Man. I don’t think I’d ever used the word “gender” in a piece of writing until 2010. Wow! What a strange time for me, too. I was three months’ out of my six-year on-and-off romance/cohabitation thing, very freshly single and really bumbling around, extremely “over” writing about video games, and meanwhile I’d begun reading a lot about learned helplessness. You know, just for funsies. Er.

Yep, before 2010, I’d never used the word “gender.” What a dumb word.

Actually, that might be a lie. In school I did write a paper about women who join subcultures: it focused on Flora Belle Jan, the self-identified “flapper” journalist, and also, of all people, Mimi Thi Nguyen, who was a punk zinester and music journalist in the ‘90s. I likened both women to the not-very-fictional Mardou Fox in The Subterraneans, a woman who meticulously works to desex herself (Kerouac tells us she has short hair like a man’s, and that she wears dress slacks), all to be taken seriously as a Beat writer. So I bet the word “gender” must’ve snuck into that college essay somehow.

In Subterraneans Mardou is driven to the brink of her own wits, suddenly all too aware that she is, now and forever, ostracized by her chosen “subculture,” some niche group with which she had once so identified. Jan and Nguyen experienced similar psychological breaking points and very willfully severed themselves from their own established writing careers. In fact, I’m sure in my paper I accused them of “fleeing.”

It was kind of a weird paper to write for Asian-American history class. It was kind of weird that I took the class at all—but I needed a history credit to graduate! Oh, well. I think I got a B.

It would also be weird if, six years after having been suddenly hot-dropped into video games journalism, I were to—very abruptly, and with a personal sense of finality and closure—acknowledge some of my own patterns of experience.

Aha, but that’s just what I did with my current column at Unwinnable, “I Was a Teenage Sexist.”

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Rise of the Welcome-to-My-Meltdown: on video games and working alone

couch

Instead of reading and publishing Kevin’s latest piece, which is still in the queue (sorry, Kevin!), I am directing you toward my newest thing, a review of Anna Anthropy’s debut book, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters. I might also continue to ignore Kevin. One of my 2012 resolutions is “sly self-promotion,” and I know Kevin will pardon me.

Most people will not read my book review, but I hope they go ahead and read Anna Anthropy’s book. The review itself is about a lot of things, but it’s also about video games and game development and writer’s block and emotional paralysis. I’m a little surprised that Stu used my quaint joke title (“Rise of the Existential Crisis”), but I’m mostly unruffled.

I’m new to freelancing, by the way. Many people were surprised when I gave up the celebrity gossip blogging gig, which was a sure bet, a daily, paid exercise that I enjoyed doing. And anyway, freelancing is hard—really hard. Most people can’t do it. I am not sure I can. I haven’t been any sort of success (hasn’t anyone noticed I’ve only published two things since February?).

At some point I might have to give it up. It makes me very happy, kind of, to sit here and write nothing and hate myself, so I’m not sure I will give up so soon, but I keep thinking about it.

But what no one tells you is that it isn’t a living. In fact it’s the total opposite: it’s figuring out how to afford full-time freelancing.

Writing for yourself is luxurious, and like all luxuries, it can be expensive. Even at this early stage in my tiny career I already waste a lot of time. Mostly I waste time trying to devise sneaky plans to help myself afford this glamorous, bohemian lifestyle.

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Why soccer games?

FIFA

Two nights ago I went to a small book-release party for a writer called Adam Levin (he wrote a book called The Instructions, and his new book is called Hot Pink). I didn’t know most people there, but I did know Adam, Adam, and Ben. I was very socially nervous.

So I was sitting in the Rainbo next to a person who had introduced himself earlier as Carson, and now he was turning in the booth to ask whether I were also a writer.

After a long think I blurted “Yes!” and this made Carson laugh, because I really had been having trouble deciding, in the moment, whether I might also be one. Carson wanted to know what kind of writing, and I told him games writing, which is to say, writing about video games and game culture. Carson asked me whom I’ve written for, and I told him about a magazine from awhile ago, and he was very impressed.

“But I don’t do that now,” I corrected myself in a hurry. “There are other types of games writing, instead of news or scores.”

Carson was frowning now, and he wondered if there were any particular genres I play. This was a much harder question. “No,” I said finally. “And you?”

“FIFA,” he said. “Only FIFA games.”

I laughed, and I told him that I hate sports games except for soccer, and now I was pulling my cell phone out of my bag to show Carson an anonymous Formspring question I had received lately, which was in response to my stupid dumb thing about sports video games. The question reads:

Why soccer games?

So I showed that question to him. Carson became animated.

“I’ll tell you why!” he said.

“Tell me,” I said, a little helplessly.

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On games of chance and “cheating”

Photo (Flickr): Chess by Howard Walfish

This Christmas I told my mother about Mohan Srivastava, some dude I first started thinking about ten-and-a-half months ago. Back then I’d written some diary thingie about “cheating,” “stealing,” and “cons.” The February 2011 issue of Wired was about all those things, too—the magazine had included an article about Mohan Srivastava—and reading the magazine was the first time I ever thought more carefully about “game-breaking” and morality. (Belated edit: I just remembered how much I like this book also.)

Over the holidays, my mother and I were watching an episode of The Mentalist together, which I like to watch with my mother sometimes because, even though it is a terrible television show, I like the idea of the main character being a mentalist and skeptic. A mentalist understands all these little rules about people (like how to perform a “cold reading”), and the hero of the TV show uses these talents for good.

This particular episode was about a town where all its residents are obsessed with finding veins of gold. The fictional people in this fictional town are all looking for gold but they are sidelining their lives to pursue it: going broke, wasting money on mining gear, alienating family, pinning every hope to finding those riches. (The episode is also about scams and cons, so I was really enjoying it, even though it was just as mediocre of every other episode of The Mentalist.)

“This really happens!” I said to my mother during a commercial. “People really waste their lives trying like this! On a pipe dream. It’s all just gambling,” I concluded. I was thoughtful.

“Haven’t I told you about Mohan Srivastava?” I asked my mother then. “The geological statistician?”

Srivastava is a type of statistician who consults the evidence, runs the variables through a complicated algorithm the rest of us will never understand, and thereby deduces the location of gold veins. So it turns out that locating a vein of gold is already a “solved game,” just like chess but more intricate.

This isn’t why Srivastava is famous; there are other geological statisticians who can also do what he does. Instead, Srivastava is famous because he realized “solving” the lottery isn’t so unlike “solving” the location of little streaks of gold in rock, and so Srivastava used the same rules and algorithms he already used for his job until, finally, he could no longer “lose” the lottery.

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Watch for the changes and try to keep up

Photo: Robert Downey, Jr.

Put your pants back on and take that seat over there. Good, thanks. Let’s hash some things out.

Let me start by reminding you that I’m a girl. Not only that, I’m an angry girl.

Joel Johnson, Kotaku’s fairly-recently-appointed Editorial Director, posted a little article titled “The Equal Opportunity Perversion of Kotaku.” (Evidently, Johnson has been taking a lot of flack for Kotaku’s new editorial direction[s], which is increasingly fluid and interesting.)

And I enjoyed the post on its own terms because, let’s face it, it is filed under a blog category titled “Fan Service.” So the post was very conspicuously directed at Kotaku’s “old guard”: here, of course, I mean the Internet’s loathsomely entitled commenters, who are mostly white and heterosexual, and male, who might fulfill almost every possible permutation of “ordinary” and “normal,” and who tend to shriek for the smelling salts anytime a lady or queer struggles into their line-of-sight. (This is a terrible stereotype to perpetuate, yes, yes, and Gawker’s own comments sections do a bang-up job of perpetuating it, not for any fault of its editors.) But let’s be coolheaded. When you deal with that type of readership, you have to be very caring and compassionate and patient, even when you don’t want to be, and so you assert things in a debilitatingly accessible way.

“What’s happening to my precious Kotaku?” the old guard must have screamed through the tips of its nervous little fingers, illuminated as one in the glow of the laptop’s screen.

So Johnson defended all of Kotaku’s editorial decisions, and his argument was compelling, and if you aren’t going to just look at the post I’d better do my best to recount it:

Johnson did anticipate that some readers would have difficulty reconciling Kotaku’s overt legacy of, say, cosplay galleries, with Kotaku’s now-implicit stance on genderjamming. So naturally, he combined both arguments into a single blog entry. Maybe he shouldn’t have tried. Listen boys, he might as well have said, you can screech about “what’s with the scary minorities on my video game blog all of a sudden” as much as you like, but it’s about as ‘normal’ to love tits wrapped in cosplay as it is to be ‘into’ anything else. That was his argument to these folks in a nutshell.

And Johnson posited this assertion in a way that heteronormative fellows who have never had their realities rocked might understand, and he pursued his argument to its logical conclusion, which is that we all fetishize something—like it or not, I’ve seen Dan Savage make this exact same argument in his columns about sex and love—and maybe you fetishize cars, computers, video games, politics, girls dressed up as Soul Calibur characters, chubby people, Japanese things, French things, your own sex, whips and chains, quoting Jesus when you do it, whatever. And if you’re fetishizing—as opposed to exoticizing, right—what’s ‘normal’ versus ‘abnormal’ is kind of beside the point. You’re into what you’re into, and that is in some way neurologically hardwired.

Besides! Johnson sagely added, the site is actually called Kotaku, which riffs on the word otaku, which lends the notion that it’s, uh, cool to be into whatever you’re into. So let’s all be good people; let’s not fracture in dissent. Thanks!

Johnson posted all of this, not as an editor, but as a moderator. He explained all the sides of everything that has ever been, ever, just as well as he could. Maybe it got a little mangled in translation. Sure.

He probably posted all this and then ducked for cover, and with plenty of reason: every pocket of enthusiast readership he could have humanly offended was sure to let him know.

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On writing for print

A painting of an eye-in-the-sky, looking over a city, by artist Jose Luis Olivares

I am about to try something really new. I’ve said that before, but this time I definitely totally mean it.

Lately, I have been getting messages from friends (Allan) about an essay of mine that appeared in Kill Screen Magazine, Issue 3: Intimacy. People, this thing was published in April. Come on.

Obviously I think you should buy the US$15 magazine, which is still available. I know a lot of people get irritated at the idea of spending that kind of money on printed media, which baffles me, but some people believe everything should be online for free. They’ve gotten used to a certain type of accessibility, and I guess that’s OK.

There are a lot of reasons you should buy the magazine, though. For one, it isn’t that old, and it’s a really good issue, and $15 isn’t that much money, and you will have this magazine forever, unless you lose it. For two, we need to support print media right now. (This is very much like a plea I meant to post back in April.) For my own part, I was already paid for my contribution to the magazine, so just buy the magazine, already. For another, we owe the person who ably and singlehandedly edited the piece, writer Chris Dahlen, because he really did do most of the work. Without a good editor, I A) would have given up, or B) would have written something much longer/shorter/worse, but probably just option A.

I wrote this essay, “All the Spaces Between Us,” very specifically for Kill Screen Magazine. It had occurred to me to pitch it to Chris one night in the car, I think in October 2010, when I was going down the highway. (This is how the magic happens, you guys.)

I realized I had some things I wanted to talk about, but if I wanted to go all the way, all-in, I’d have to write for print. That’s because the printed word affords you a freedom you don’t really get with Internet writing. Everyone can see Internet writing and then pass it around, so you have to watch what you say. Plus you don’t want to experiment with putting your whole soul on the line for strangers, and then here comes Joe Dickhead in the comments, picking it apart. Listen, Dickhead! That’s what college was for! OK!

With print, though, people have to pay for the privilege of taking your writing seriously, and because your writing isn’t very muscular anyway, a lot of people are going to flip past your essay. That’s a very freeing feeling, to know that a lot of people won’t stop to read, or else they will get exhausted and stop reading before you ever start making your Very Important Points.

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What ‘Glitch’ can teach us about being alive

A screenshot from the free-to-play MMO 'Glitch'

Derek and I have been spending an awful lot of time in Glitch, the free-to-play MMO that launched, finally, last month. (And when I saw “an awful lot of time,” I mean it. I’ve gained noticeable weight in the last three days. I’ve practically forgotten to keep eating, breathing, pooping, et cetera.)

Gameplay is ostensibly based on, of all things, the theory of ‘infinite play’ as outlined in this ultra-slim work of philosophy. The real point of Glitch, then, is “to continue the game for continuing-the-game’s sake.” There are gods and cities and objectives, sure, but there is no win: there is only forward.

In the earliest portions of Glitch, the dreaded ‘tutorial’ phase is scuttled in lieu of a long, unslodgy process of exploration. Your “Familiar”—he’s a google-eyed rock at the top of the screen, with occasional speech bubbles blooming from his sweet, mouthless little face—will give you small, achievable quest missions, which are less ‘go fetch’ and more ‘go discover!’ Your Familiar also helps you learn different “skills,” which open doors, in turn, to other skills. (When the Familiar is “studying,” his blank visage assumes a pair of reading glasses, adorably.)

Your autodidacticism is always and invariably rewarded with a triumphant trill, maybe even a badge or trophy, but then there’s that terrible carrot—there’s always more. And here is the truth about Glitch: the tutorial never ends. Because you’re always learning. That’s the game. And this could make you feel tired, but instead, it makes you feel awake.

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Stress, pubs, and rock and roll

I’d had influenza for exactly one week and was beginning to feel the symptoms of crazy, and I think that is why I accidentally double-booked myself for bar trivia. I’d never done trivia in a bar before, and then somehow I managed to join two different quiz teams, each playing at 8PM CST on opposite sides of the city. Whoops! But I was very committed to meeting my friend Robyn for the quiz because, put together, we are a dainty, shrieking Ken Jennings.

I read somewhere that pub quizzes are more stressful than first-person shooters. I think I read that somewhere, anyway. (No, I just checked. It’s an actual video game called Pub Quiz, I see, that is so stressful, as opposed to a digital pub quiz.) But this sounds believable, right? Studying for the GRE is stressful. Taking tests is stressful. Public speaking is stressful. If I could only be on Jeopardy!, I could at long last fulfill my dream of vomiting on television. Without Robyn to steel me, I am not much like Ken Jennings at all. I have a numb brain and a slow trigger finger.

I felt both social and bloodthirsty, so I started my shit-talk well before the quiz began. But then, as our competitive spirit waned, Robyn and I decided to combine forces with our friends Brian and Ben. They let us join their team even though I had been emasculating them for an hour. That was a pretty shrewd move by all of us, though: Brian and Ben are versed in politics, movies, and history, but especially sports. They both are writers, too. Four writers at a table! And for as smart as we are, we are awfully loud and awfully good-looking.

I don’t mean to be a creep, or smug, but I did announce that we had the best-looking team by miles.

The quiz started. Guess what! Just one member of the team had two thumbs and zero idea who Clarence Darrow is: this gal!

The actress from Saving Grace? I started to write down “Brenda Blethyn.” Robyn slapped my hand. “Holly Hunter!” she hissed. Oh, a TV show! Not a movie!

“Oops, there is also a movie,” I told Robyn. Which I took my parents to see! Eleven years ago! I picked it! I drove us there! I’d already seen it once before! It’s about marijuana! And! My parents loved it!

Midway through the quiz, Robyn and I, who do not have the sports streak or zeal for self-improvement and exercise that Brian and Ben have, admitted that we each had become incredibly competitive. We had gone from giggling and slacking in round one to MIGHTY by round three.

“I have tasted blood, and I liked the flavor!” I said to Ben.

“See?” Ben said. “Now you are thinking like a winner.” Ben high-fived me.

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Daily Linksplosion: Sunday, February 06, 2011

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Daily Linksplosion: The Really Angry One

I get angry, but not that often. Or maybe I am angry a lot. But in my adult life I have always stepped lightly around my own opinions. That timorousness has helped maintain a lot of friendships that might otherwise not have lasted. My best childhood friend and I, for instance, have completely opposite, rabidly passionate beliefs. We have carefully cultivated a friendly and loving political distance. She and I understand the stakes. We know that, if we begin those conversations, we won’t stop, our feelings will be hurt, and no one will win. That is why she is my best friend. I have the same relationship with, you know, my mother.

Maybe nobody needs to know everything I’m thinking at any given moment, or how I feel about health reform or gun laws or Larry Elder (it’s complicated). Maybe there are some fiercely held opinions I’d do just as well to keep under my hat, just as I’d do well not to march up to a friendly acquaintance and scream “I hate you and everything you stand for.” No, I tiptoe, genuinely working hard to not alienate my fellow humankind. There’s no reason, ordinarily, for me to take up arms and get in your face and go THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS.

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Hi, I’m a huge asshole

I bet I’ll come to regret this, but I’m going to tell you a secret I’ve never been comfortable with sharing before this moment: I’m a huge asshole.

I mean, I’m the biggest asshole I know. That’s because I barely give a shit about hurt feelings, because I’m a narcissistic fuck who is the center of her own universe. Until now I’ve tried to keep my being an asshole under wraps, but the sheer effort takes a lot out of me. If I troll the Internet, I’m careful to use an anonymous name that won’t get traced back to me. I fight myself to not use slurs: for instance, I don’t call things “gay” anymore, because my gay friends all convinced me to stop. I’m really careful to not call anything “retarded” if I’m talking to someone who knows someone who is retarded, but sometimes it slips out anyway. I’m doing my very best to hide my interior asshole from the lot of you nice people.

But it’s time for me, finally, to trudge out of my flamboyantly asshole closet and come clean with you.

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