Archive for Personal Essay

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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Dementia, video games, and the end of the beginning

“You know, if you’re working full-time,” my boss/friend said, “Infinite Lives is probably going to turn into a toy blog! Ha, ha!”

She wasn’t very wrong. Since I started my new job (and unpacking! And assembling furniture!) last month,

  • I can tell you each of the Kidrobot toy releases, in order
  • I am daily asked, “What does it do” (to which I invariably, gaily answer, “Nothing!”)
  • I’ve started walking to work
  • I’ve started watching TV
  • I’ve started waking up at 9am
  • I’ve been playing a shit ton of Soul Calibur
  • which you’d never know, because my Xbox Live Gold account expired
  • I was booted from two Second Life groups (that I really liked!) because I haven’t logged in
  • I picked up Street Fighter IV and, frankly, could not understand the appeal (sorry)
  • I sleuthed out which PC game Bart was describing—it was Ultima VII
  • I reread a book
  • I stopped reading the Internet
  • Also, I realized that, if I saw it first on Apartment Therapy, I probably definitely missed it on Offworld two weeks prior
  • I reorganized my board games
  • I moved my 2600, RetroDuo, PS2, and Dreamcast to the “nightmare room”

Well, no: I’m not sure what I’m getting at, either. Last night, in my stupor, I named this very file as “tryagain.txt”—I think because it needed a rewrite—but now it feels different, like maybe I meant something else when I called it that.

Here are the un-re-written histrionics:

It isn’t that my gaming-life is dead, exactly. That isn’t what I’m trying to say. I think it’s this: games, for me, have returned to being something blissfully extracurricular. In some ways, that’s sad. It’s regrettable that I haven’t maintained much of a schedule or presence here—and I’d apologize if that weren’t such a relief. Why had I worked so hard to read industry news each day, or to play games on their launch dates? Who, exactly, am I competing with?

In short, this blog will no longer receive regular updates.

Then, of course, there’s the long of it.

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Overheard: GDC afterhours

Scott Sharkey is phoning me.

“Is that you over there? Standing lonely at the corner?”

“I am not lonely,” I tell him. “I was twittering.”

“Well, come over here, where we are,” Sharkey tells me. I squint at the intersection. A hundred feet away, Sharkey is waving.

Inside, I sit down across from Cactus. He frowns at me.

“You’re… Sharkey’s friend,” he says.

“You ate my snack mix,” I remind him.

Later in the night, Cactus will offer me potato chips.

Cactus presents Derek Yu with canned herring from Sweden.

“That isn’t legal,” I tell him.

“It’s legal… if I… didn’t show it to anyone at customs,” Cactus says.

Too late to worry about that now: we ate it all! Verdict? Pretty tasty, actually.

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Avatars, part II of III: Cartooning (or, the Importance of Hair)

Now that my readership has appropriately flatlined, I am permitted to publish the second in a three-part series of journal entries about my quest to create the perfect avatar. In part I, we talked about caricature, and I obnoxiously examined what makes my own face distinctive. Now, we examine what, exactly, makes cartooning effective. Here’s a hint: HAIR.

Seeing in the Abstract

Let’s talk cartooning.

In his wonderful work of literary and visual criticism, Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud explains (emphases his):

...I’m going to examine cartooning as a form of amplification through simplification.

When we abstract an image through cartooning, we’re not so much eliminating details as we are focusing on specific details. By stripping down an image to its essential “meaning,” an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can’t.

How do cartooning, caricature, and avatars relate to videogames in a broader sense? The key, I think, is iconography. Take a look at Character Design for Mobile Devices, wherein realistic character design and artistry are pared down to their simplest and most fundamental pixels.

“How did you feel,” 1UP editor James Mielke asked Final Fantasy artist Yoshitaka Amano, “about seeing your elaborate illustrations transformed into such tiny sprites?”

Amano replied with an elegant description that could be applied to any type of icon. ”...Back then, ...my art couldn’t just go into the game without major adjustments,” he explained. “So I looked at the sprites as just a symbol of my art. Here’s an example: when you say ‘Mount Fuji’ and you make a motion like this”—here, Amano makes a peak sign with his fingers—“everybody knows what Mount Fuji looks like, so they get the mental image in their head. So I was in charge of making the master art piece that people would keep in their mind, and people would remember this art because of these symbols in the game.”

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Eulogizing 1UP and EGM, sort of

Know what got shut down yesterday?

Waterford Crystal. I saw it on the Associated Press newswire. I said to my mom, “Oh, man, hang on to those glass vases or whatever, because it’s all over for Waterford.” I mean, Waterford Wedgewood is only bankrupt, but you know what that means.

Mom and I were at dinner, still talking about Waterford vases and Wedgewood dishware, when Chuf’s roommate—why am I calling him Chuf now?—IM’d me. My phone buzzed; I spent the rest of dinner staring at it.

If you don’t know what I’m getting at, please catch up. If you don’t feel any sense of loss or regret right now, this isn’t for you; come back later. Or, if you want to hear from someone who actually suffered real loss today, that’s over here. Or all over 1UP.com. Take your pick.

Or maybe you’re looking for something really articulate. You won’t find it here.

Right now, on a popular games message board somewhere in the dark recesses of the Internet, people are posting direct download links to, and torrents for, complete collections of audio and video files, and to screenshots of EGM cover scans. The idea is to hoard them, the same way I hoarded Circus Animal cookies in August after Mother’s shuttered its factory. I went to the convenience store, looked at the bags, counted my cash, tried to Collect Them All.

My mom knows a lot of people in that office on Second Street, by the way. She’d periodically come to San Francisco, intending to ruin my life for a week at a time, and she’d start by killing my credibility in the office (thanks for the help). She’d take a cab directly to the building; she’d bring her rolling luggage right to my desk.

“Stay here,” I said to her once, putting her in my desk chair. “Play Solitaire. Here,” and then I pushed the mouse toward her, “I am giving you Solitaire.”

Other parents play Guitar Hero. Why can’t my mom play Guitar Hero?

“Where are you going? Can’t you leave work yet?” my mom wanted to know. Her rolling luggage was now in Alice Liang’s chair.

“No, play some Solitaire,” I told her. “I have to record a podcast.”

My mother looked at me sidelong. “Wearing that?” she scoffed.

Oh, my God.

Later that night, Sam Kennedy said—I think only teasingly—“Your mom has no idea what you do for a living, does she.” I laughed. I was heartbroken.

My mom is affable, and she has the best of intentions, but what she loved about my job was a magazine to put on the kitchen table, with a byline to show off to visitors. She is 77 years old. She is a willing patron, but she has no idea what you do for a living, does she.

My mom is the Betty White of corporations.

My mom reminds me, with a sigh, “Look. You need money to do what you want.” That’s true. I get that. It’s sad when you run out of money.

My mom wants to know how everyone is doing. My mom wants to know that everyone is safe. How is that nice young man, Sam? How is Garnett? (“He’s handsome and charming,” she once observed, “so stay away.”) Scott? Is Scott OK? Let’s just start with who is not OK. OK. So we go through secondhand lists of names, and she is filled with worry, even though she isn’t sure what’s going on. Me neither.

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Avatars, part I of III: Caricature

This is the first in a three-part series of journal entries about my quest to create the perfect avatar. It will not be a perfect or academic analysis. In fact, it may be the least formal of the entries at Infinite Lives, simply because it treads some personal ground. In part I, we’ll examine what makes my own face distinctive. Then, and for the next three days, we’ll take a look at my subsequent attempts at avatar creation, gauging how they have succeeded or failed. The final piece will appear here this Friday.

During the NXE beta, someone sent a message to my Xbox. I didn’t recognize the handle, but he apparently knew me. “Your avatar looks so much like you!” he wrote. I frowned. “I hate my avatar,” I wrote back curtly. Then I clarified: “The hair is all wrong.”

He wrote back, confessing he hated his own NXE avatar. You know, the hair.

Later, at a Thanksgiving dinner among friends, I complimented someone on his NXE avatar. “I liked mine,” he agreed. “But yours was incredible.”

Was it? I wondered aloud. “I haven’t worn my hair that way in a year,” I reminded him. He seemed really startled, slowly realizing that I was right. I do not have short, shaggy hair. Not anymore.

The art of avatar creation is, at times, the same as the art of caricature. It could be said, too, that caricature is the equivalent and perfect polar opposite of vanity, that willful misrepresentation of yourself as someone more attractive than you really are (see also: Myspace angles). Caricature is here defined as not only an exaggeration, but as a “grotesque imitation or misrepresentation.” And because caricature is a deliberate misrepresentation, in a perfect parallel with the art of vanity, it willfully contradicts reality. Your identity on the Internet, as in the workplace and in virtual worlds, is probably a work of willful caricature.

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