Archive for Personal Essay

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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Castle of Illusion

I am going to try something new—just this once, I promise.

I’ve been thinking about Austin all wrong.

I grew up in Texas, so Austin makes me panic. I’ve long thought of the state’s best city as my Other Andersonville, a fantasy wonderland where my high school classmates are hiding behind trees on street corners, waiting to ambush and humiliate me. And ditto to you, hometown H-E-B.

But recent events conspired to position me an hour away from Austin, so I packed my two duffels and my laptop bag and hopped into my car. I drove northward to my friend MC’s house: I think we used to call it the Trash House, or if we didn’t and I just made that up, I guess I’ve offended some people. No, I think we called it that. I performed a rap there once, in German, to the third-largest audience of my life. I was about 21 then.

Brandon Boyer, the writer, recommended that I time my long Austin weekend to Venn itself with an indie games developer get-together he organizes. I thought the beer part sounded pretty good, so I parked across the street from the bar and meandered in, maybe a couple hours late.

At that hour the bar was desolate, because everyone was already in the backyard. I got directions to the now-obvious EXIT sign and stepped outside. Brandon waved me over. Then he nudged his friend, who made space at the picnic table. I wedged myself between them.

“This looks like that place in San Francisco!” I said to Brandon, feeling homesickness and something else.

“Zeitgeist?” he said.

“Yeah!” I said. Yeah, that was what.

“Yeah, it’s the one place out there that looks like Austin.”

He explained everyone’s Thing in a hurry. The get-togethers are successful in that a lot of artists and developers show up, so if you think I remember any names or projects I didn’t write down in the moment, you are kidding yourself. I was way out of my element. I explained to Brandon that Indie City Games in Chicago was more like a symposium, with demonstrations and a projector and playtesting.

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Video Game Feminist of the Decade: or, when “You” is a girl

Video Game Feminist of the Decade in Kill Screen, issue 1

05/26/2010 update: So a newer, better, EVEN LONGER, revised version of this hokum will allegedly be published in issue #1, the ‘No Fun Issue’, of Kill Screen Magazine. I’m very proud. Please avoid this version and read the longer, better one! Thanks!

I’m disappointed I haven’t been able to actively participate in any Bayonetta discussion—I kind of haven’t played the game, so I have no fully formed opinions, here.

But that won’t stop me from posting a long stream-of-consciousness with squirrelly punctuation in the middle of the night. No sirree!

The ongoing Bayonetta dialogue reminds me of a short conversation I had on a patio deck at a casual (birthday?) party maybe a year or two ago. I don’t remember which editor of what website I was talking to (and that’s just total laziness on my part, because I could just google around until I find his piece and byline), but he wanted to talk to me about his pick for Video Game Character of That Year.

And, for this editor, his choice had come down to two characters, each of whom he admired. There was Faith Connors (Mirror’s Edge) and—he excitedly told me this—“You!” (Fallout 3). And he could not wait to pen this article, because Fallout 3’s “You!” had thrilled him, you know, not only as a critic, but as a gamer.

I could totally get where he was coming from. In 2006, for instance, Time absolutely got it right when the magazine named “You!” the Person of the Year. I think the magazine did something really smugly stupid, too, like a shiny, mirrored cover that reflected your own face, which invited a lot of eye-rolling.

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