Laura Hudson and I are Kickstarting a gorgeous hardcover book to celebrate a year of Offworld’s excellent features, both from our contributors as well as our own work. We’re keeping it simple — back the book, get a book (there are some stickers too!) — and we think it’s a super cool idea to have this lovely full-color physical object to commemorate what I seriously think is some of the finest writing people have ever done about games.
It seems I’ve been writing about video games for nearly ten years now. It seemed to go by very quickly, and what an exciting time to have had a voice in this field. So much has changed.
I started writing about games because I was at a point in my life where writing was the only work I could do on my own terms, and, oddly, games were the only thing I knew enough about at the time to claim some kind of authority on. I loved the damn things — as is common for many of us, playing games was a source of order in a disordered world, a place of self-soothing and creative stimulation. And moreover at that time I felt sort of alone in that love, like I didn’t really know anyone who was “like me” who played, and who thought about games in the way that I did. I wished to see that change.
Over the course of my career I’ve tried all kinds of ways of shouting into the universe in the service of that wish. For years I quietly wrote about tools, game design and development at Gamasutra. I sat on publishers’ financial calls and interviewed executives and asked game developers how they did their jobs. But I was always attracted to the unusual and the non-traditional; I blogged about hentai games and horror games, I over-analyzed everything, I thought about what creators meant to say, and I took noisome stands whenever possible about all the ways I thought the commercial, calcified world of video game culture could be broken open, made stranger and cooler and more beautiful. Less gunmetal and neon, less merchandise and memes, more good colors, good music, good clothes.
And louder, and sweeter: Less polish, more feeling. I believe in that.
Eventually (albeit a bit late for those who’d been hoping I’d use my visibility to represent) it dawned on me that I would never get the world I wanted around technology and play so long as that world was dominated by the same kinds of people. I got interested in diversity activism in games not just because I thought it was right and fair, but because I thought a world led by new voices would be the best and the most interesting. The coolest and the funnest and the sexiest and the weirdest and the most beautiful. The most truthful.
When Boing Boing offered me the chance to have a go at relaunching the Offworld alt-games label in its network, I wanted to demonstrate that vision. And you know something? It was annoyingly easy. There were too many alt games to cover, too many talented women and people of color to work with. The creative world around game-making has flourished. I mean, look at these stories. Look at these features!
The ideas and conversations that were rare and revolutionary when I began are part of the daily dialogue now. It has been a long, long time since I could count on one hand the only women I knew in the game industry, or since N’Gai Croal tried to talk about the imagery of Resident Evil 5 and people weren’t ready to hear him.
The appetite for what we were doing at Offworld turned out to be massive. We crushed our traffic targets, doing 750,000 visitors a month at our best and generating millions of page views, which is something that makes Laura and I super proud. I think it’s promising for the future of games culture, and I can be happy with that.
Even though you all know these years have been at times heartbreaking and very difficult for me, I can be mostly happy with it all in the end. I am especially proud to have done Offworld with Laura, and I’d love to work with her again, and you should work with her, too. And whatever Boing Boing does next with the Offworld brand, we enjoyed the time we spent with it, and we finish it proudly. Even though there are all kinds of things that affect the long term possibilities for a web brand inside a major network besides whether you meet your goals, I can be really happy with Offworld and everything else I’ve done until now.
What I’m saying is that I can be finished with this, and be really happy.
Ten years is a long time to be doing the same thing at unrelenting spiritual cost. I think I have finally had enough. And more importantly, I think I’ve said and done everything that I wanted to say and do here. This is not to say I’ll never write about games again – so many of us try to say that and then we keep coming back — but I’d like to have fun playing again, and not have it feel like work. Or like a risk. I would like a new line of work. I would like to learn and grow and to do something different.
I’m not actually sure what I’d like to do next, but I am lucky to have some room to explore. I’m good at all kinds of things now, and I’m excited to see what else is possible for me. I’ve been writing a regular tech culture column in The Guardian lately, and I’m going to do more things like that. I’ve contributed to one of my favorite universes with this upcoming Android: Netrunner novella, and I’m looking for more opportunities to do storytelling and world-building in new spaces. I might write an essay collection about the movie Labyrinth. It’s my dream to work on interactive fiction projects. I still do public speaking and I still do consulting of all kinds with Agency. If you have always wanted to work together, or if you have ideas for me, please do get in touch.
Please continue to support women, people of color and other marginalized folks in games, not just when it’s time to hold their games up in academia or to have them giving unpaid talks on your conference schedule. Please notice that it is always the most vulnerable and the most marginalized people who stick their necks out first and then other people (even me) end up being heaped with credit for building on what they’ve done. That’s fucked. Please continue to champion a fresh, radiant and accessible vision of games both commercial and non-commercial. To the captains of industry, please think a little more about the kids of the future and a little less about getting your childhood fantasies back.
Meanwhile, you can get a copy of Offworld’s beautiful features collection on Kickstarter now, probably my last contribution to game criticism for the foreseeable future. Laura has done most of the work of organizing this wonderful project and it would not have happened without her. I can’t wait to hold it in my hands!
Some of the best things I’ve ever done are in that book, as are some of the best people I’ve ever worked with. Thank you so much for supporting me so heartily over my years in games. Please do it once more.
PS: Some games resources that have become important to me: The curation at Warp Door and the tireless discoveries of Chris Priestman in general, Alice O’Connor’s work at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Paste Magazine’s quietly excellent approach to new writers, also Unwinnable’s. I also love the work Shut Up & Sit Down does to modernize, brighten and invite more people to the board, card and roleplaying space, but I’m biased because I’m marrying one of those dudes this year. I’m getting married this year! Yeah, you know, things are really good out there and in here.