I am, I have, and I do

Hi friends,

Taking it a bit easy this week after travel, talks, workshops and things last week. First I was in Helsinki — you may have seen video of the talk I gave on games and “pop alternative” culture. Failing that, you might have seen some transcription of the Q&A, which has circulated widely because of the men who attempted to ‘challenge’ me with disgruntled questions.

It wasn’t their best moment.

I also went to Malta to kick off the Global Game Jam there and to give a workshop to the students on getting their work out there onto the world stage a bit more. I fell in love with the cross-disciplinary, close-knit game development community there — on a small island, having to get along and work together is the default, and people come up with unique combinations for unexpected skills.

The game that won the jury prize was a solo board game about reaching your peak in life, and how you go on after that. It’s called The Mountain and you can download the basic files to try print-and-play, or at least see how it works. I hope they go forward with it.

It was weird traveling among speaking engagements knowing there was some creepy thread about my every engagement. As a child I thought flying around the world as a “notorious criminal” would be elegant. I recorded the newest Lo-Fi Let’s Play — Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego — in the Helsinki airport, and as flight calls and rolling luggage sound went by in the background, I talked about some of these feelings.  There’ve definitely been some more Lo-Fi Let’s Plays since last we talked, including Emmanuelle: A Game of Eroticism (if you can call it that), and you can catch up on my channel whenever you like.

I heard about  a weird new ring that can tell you when “he” is going to text, among other superhero powers. I wrote about our close relationship to our smartphones and what happens when wearables solve the wrong problem for Medium’s Re:Form channel.

Finally, you may have already seen the announcement, but my next digital project, Mona, will release on Valentine’s Day. It’s a short story inspired by Silent Hill 2 with illustrations by the inimitable Emily Carroll. Like Clipping Through it’ll be released on Gumroad. Stay tuned.

Next week I’m in Belgium at the Screenshake festival, and then I’m finally coming home to New York City for IndieCade, where I play host to the Great Global Design Debate, where Mattie Brice, Nick Fortugno, Mohini Freya Dutta and Naomi Clark will debate games and cultural imperalism and more.

 

Announcing Mona, an illustrated short story

unnamedI’m excited to announce the next piece in my series of self-published projects: Mona, a work of short fiction inspired loosely by Silent Hill 2. It’s a story about a monstrous woman, ambition and the hunger for love.

It’s about six thousand words of prose, starring illustrations by Emily Carroll, one of my favorite artists. You may know her wonderful recent horror anthology Through the Woods, or perhaps you remember her work from the Yawhg.  I’m thrilled and honored to get to work with her, and her visual imagination brings the undercurrent of the story to vivid life.

Mona releases digitally on Gumroad on Valentine’s day starting at $2 or pay what you want. There’ll also be a $5+ option that includes a quality audio recording of the full text by me. All proceeds go directly to me with revenue share for Emily, with a view toward helping build sustainability and an ecosystem in which I can also pay other people. Strong sales mean we’ll consider printing and selling a physical version in future. Look for the live link on the day of love.

Mark your calendars. Mona wants to meet you.

My 2014 in review

In 2014 I published two books, Breathing Machine and Clipping Through. I also published my first short story, a work of speculative fiction about the Atari dig, called The Unearthing, and contributed an essay about loyalty and girlhood called Are You Sure to the Double Dare Ya! riot grrrl zine with a bunch of comics people.

Thanks to Clipping Through sales I have been able to pay royalties to Liz Ryerson, as I hoped I would be able to, each month. This makes me happy about the possibilities of self-publishing and sustainability.

I started a column at VICE UK; one of my best pieces of the year is there, on why Desert Golfing has encapsulated 2014 for me. I also tried yet again to explain my love for Metal Gear Solid 3, and didn’t catch it all.

I launched a video series exploring and playing with vintage adventure games, called Lo-Fi Let’s Play, syndicated at Rock Paper Shotgun (I’ll resume regular weekly episodes in the new year). And I started guest-hosting the Guardian’s Tech Weekly podcast, where I’ve interviewed folks like Biella Coleman, Steven Johnson and Jamie Bartlett.

I wrote an article about how a tight group of traditionalists with mainstream appetites and negative attitudes was becoming irrelevant and worth ignoring. The “gamers are dead” piece then went on to prove how absolutely correct I was — especially as the word “dead” does not appear anywhere in the headline nor in the article. Then my book sales spiked, I went in TIME magazine and on MSNBC and in the New York Times and on NPR (again).

From now on, anyone who wants to talk to me about the above events or to ask whether I am “okay” should buy me a glass of champagne first. Because of course I fucking am.

Many are still not okay and might never be okay. I hope my guide to supporting women online during harassment episodes keeps helping you help them.

I butted heads with my own nature to forcibly teach myself Netrunner this year, and documented my personal journey (with illustrations!). It’s not really a piece about Netrunner as it is about the nature of play and the self, and games and learning. Earlier this month I came in 8th out of 46 in a London Netrunner tournament.

One of my best pieces this year was about bodies, violence, presence and consent in games, led by a study of one of Merritt Kopas’ works. Speaking of masochism, the piece I wrote about Sonic the Hedgehog’s weird, undying legacy was very nearly as controversial as the “gamers are ‘dead’” piece.

I did some journalism — I like this set of interviews about the Threes issue, and also this reflection I did on the failures of game journalism in the wake of Irrational’s closure. The stuff we all knew and didn’t report. I felt “over” the “damaged but strong female character” thing.

I gave talks in Nottingham, Antwerp, Zurich, Portland OR, New York, San Francisco, Malmo and Cologne this year. I launched a game design consultancy called Agency with a colleague and we’ve been helping indies’ dreams come true.

I played a lot of really good video games. Here are my top 5. If I were making a top 10, the other 5 would be Jazzpunk, Threes!, Game of Thrones: Iron from Ice, Curious Expedition and The Sailor’s Dream.

These are just my favorites of 2014, for me. As always, links to anything I do, things I think and feel, etc, get posted on this website eventually, so if for some reason this isn’t enough articles, you can read back through [UPDATE: Critical Distance’s Year in Video Game Blogging is out now, so there’s even more games criticism from other writers available for you.]

In spite of everything I had an exceptional year, and 2015 is shaping up to be even better. Thanks to everyone who got me through the hard times. Our community of the compassionate, the curious, the playful and the proud is stronger than the extinction bursts of a thousand little aberrant nerves.

MERRY EFFING CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE xoxoxo

Monday links, 11-3-04

Did everyone have an excellent Halloween? I’m not sure if more adults are increasingly participating in costume-partying or whether social media just makes it look that way. I spent mine at GameCity — some other great games people and I wrote in a ‘Live Text Adventures‘ event that was just incredible fun.

It’s a bit tough to explain: each author (Kieron Gillen, Chris Avellone, James Moran, Zoe Quinn, Ian Livingstone and I!) is one-on-one with a user, and we’re writing them the text game as they play it (ends up looking a bit like this!) Each of us writes a basically similar set of puzzles and circumstances, though they evolve in our own way, and there’s a room of people watching the games play out live. When someone’s turn ends with the game, the next player tries to get a little further.  I could have done it for hours.

It makes me sad how few of your average game players today have the vocabulary required for text adventures. I wrote about that in some more depth at the Guardian recently as I covered this year’s Interactive Fiction competition — learn about the medium and try some of the games!

You absolutely need to play through Creatures Such As We — it’s a space dating sim about space dating sims, the game industry and what players want from narrative games. Yes, it’s about all those things, and it’s very touching. If you like Mass Effect and things like that you mustn’t miss this!

One of the reasons I do my Lo-Fi Let’s Play video series is to try to keep the art and structure of adventures and verbal games alive. With a little help from Shut Up & Sit Down‘s Quintin Smith, I recorded a Halloween special, my first full-length playthrough! It’s The Colonel’s Bequest — readers enjoyed the episode about it so much I decided to show the whole game.

Here’s an interview I did about Curious Expedition, the wonderful exploring roguelike by some former Spec Ops: The Line creators. I’m so excited about this game.

I was on MSNBC talking about that thing and having my name pronounced wrong.

I’m going to be the host of the Guardian’s Tech Weekly podcast for a little while, which is super exciting! In our latest episode, we talk about the ‘dark net,’ creepypasta, the future of AI (scary) and more!

I interviewed two creators of new social issue games that tackle the challenges of standardized education and the ins and outs of the pharmaceutical industry.

At Ravishly, Jetta interviewed me about games, my books and my work, and what cocktails I would design for specific video game situations.

Finally, as I sometimes do, I tried to write about my most-loved video game, Metal Gear Solid 3, at VICE for its anniversary. I still never manage to say it all.

Monday Links, 10-13-04

The sky is white and it’s raining, and there are bright northern parakeets flitting among the wet autumn trees. They’re called rose-ringed parakeets, and their tails fan out when they fly, bright yellow on one side, vivid blue on the other. They will be here even into the winter.

I did a new Lo-Fi Let’s Play at Rock Paper Shotgun. The Colonel’s Bequest is one of my favorite adventure games, and it’s perfect for October, when — let’s be real — spooky manors are in. I’m seriously considering recording a full-length video of a scary old game as a Halloween present for you, and that game is one of the candidates!

As Twin Peaks is set to return in 2016, I wrote an article about the series at Boing Boing, in search of a modern context for it. Why did my generation suddenly turn around and get ‘into’ it? What’s its role in a television (and social) climate where we don’t so readily see small-town police as ‘good guys’ anymore?

Twine creator Chris Klimas never expected the revolution in game creation the tool would launch. Here, we talk about the beta of version 2.0 and what’s next — including ways to reach even more people and public computers.

Last year I got very into A Dark Room, and creator Doublespeak Games has a new puzzle sure to keep you nurturing a single browser tab. I did an interview with creator Michael Townsend about his work, and his fascination with the supply chain.

Buying Clipping Through, my book about the games industry, is currently the best way to support me and my colleague Liz Ryerson, who designed the cover and contributed an afterword. At a time when most women have to talk themselves into feeling like it’s worth it to do this work, I gotta be honest — money starts to become more compelling than ‘you’re doing the right thing!’ If you want to hear an audio chapter of Clipping Through before you buy, my colleague Ann Scantlebury helped me record one at RNIB Talking Book Studios.

However, I’m doing great, and I appreciate all the support. Here is some more exciting news — I’m going to be joining the Guardian’s Tech Weekly podcast in the coming weeks, beginning as a contributor with a view toward hopefully becoming a presenter soon. So there’ll be yet another venue where we can find each other.

Over the past month or so I’ve been in TIME, on NPR, talked at two conferences, my criticism and my editorial stance reached the New York Times, The Week, and many others. Ultimately I think the episodes of the last several weeks will be viewed by history as an important turning point in conversations about games and tech culture — and that I and  the people and causes I care about will only have more opportunities as a result of all this in the end.

List of ethical concerns in video games (partial)

A list of real ethical concerns in video games:

Video games are used to covertly advance the political agendas of arms manufacturers.

The aggressive marketing of capitalist war games is an inspiration to the U.S. military, which could take a page out of games marketing’s book in order to push unpopular ideas on the public.

Games like Littleloud’s Sweatshop or Molleindustria’s Phone Story are forbidden from Apple’s mobile storefronts, because they question (arguably deservedly) the ethics of manufacturing operations in impoverished areas.

This site and this one are just a couple of the sites game developers can pay for reviews that make unproven promises to improve games’ positioning on mobile storefronts.

Developers who invest in design and publishing on mobile storefronts can expect to have free, unsanctioned clones of their games steal their revenue and come ahead of the original on charts with no action taken from the companies that own those storefronts.

YouTubers have and continue to accept money to put games before their fervent consumer audiences and are not meaningfully obligated to disclose those relationships. They can then occupy leading curation spaces on a major storefront like Steam, Currently Steam curation’s discoverability algorithms mean the most powerful forces — many of whom, again, earn money from some game developers and not from others — only become more powerful.

The labor practices of the traditional game industry are exploitive and abhorrent. The industry’s historical production model involves staffing up, demanding extreme work weeks, and then letting go of the ‘excess’ talent after a product ships. Speaking out against these conditions is socially sanctioned, and developers who speak to the press at any time other than when marketing wants them to risk being fired.

An entire product and studio network — and by extension, a regional economy around games — can tank because of political posturing, and there is no accountability nor information provided to ameliorate the human collateral damage.

One of the U.S.’ most long-running and successful print game publications is owned by one of the world’s best-known game retailers, and few of the magazine’s consumers seem aware of what, if any impact that relationship might have.

In the name of objectivity, the consumer-facing games press largely releases material on a mutually-agreed upon set of terms and schedules dictated by game companies. It routinely accepts travel arrangements to tour studios and look at in-development games on financial obligation to those game companies and on those companies’ terms. Attempting to subvert this process by inserting personal opinion is viewed as ‘bias’.

In many of the above cases even when disclosure is obligated and made, disclosure does little to purify the overall effect on the climate and its perspectives.

Despite this, only the games press exists to question these ethical problems and attempt to inform the consumer. No one would care otherwise.

Women in games are routinely abused, bullied and harassed while their professional community, and the industry’s largest companies, tend to remain silent. Interrogating this culture or attempting to advance this conversation can result in censure or punishment.

Not currently ethical concerns: Women’s sex lives, independent game developers’ Patreons, the personal perspectives of game critics, people having contentious or controversial opinions, who knows who in a close-knit industry (as if one could name an industry where people don’t know each other or work together).

 

Perfect stealth

Would you like to hear me read a chapter from my new book, Clipping Through? My friend Ann Scantlebury of of RNIB Talking Book Studios had me around her recording space to read out loud! It was lots of fun, and now I have an audio chapter to give you. It’s the “Pigeon” chapter, which most people have told me is their favorite. I hope you enjoy hearing it.

It’s been a very busy month — I gave a talk at XOXO in Portland,  then went directly to Zurich to talk at Ludicious and serve on the international competition jury.  I didn’t know much about the Swiss game development scene til now — it’s unique to see an indie culture that’s sort of sprung up fully formed, as Switzerland has no heritage of traditional game studios. I spoke to some journalists there and learned the main gripe people have about Swiss indies is they care too much about art and not enough about making money. Interesting!

Of course, I wrote this, and then I was in TIME, and on Grantland’s amazing Girls in Hoodies podcast, and on National Public Radio, and of course I’m all finished talking about that.

Lo-Fi Let’s Plays continue every week at Rock Paper Shotgun — the latest one is the crude but pure Man-Eng, Master of Evil, although I’m pretty pleased with how the Neuromancer one served.

My Vice column continues; newest one is about the ‘self’ in games, and the unique sensation of watching my boyfriend make himself a very lovely Destiny avatar.

At Gamasutra, I spoke to Bennett Foddy about his 16-player deathmatch Speed Chess. As usual, he is full of great ideas — especially when it comes to what game designers can learn from the Momofuku cookbook.

With all these long flights, I finally had the time to invest in teaching myself Crusader Kings 2. I finally became the King of Ireland, which is immensely satisfying I also played through most of the endings for Hatoful Boyfriend — Laura Hudson’s piece on it says basically what I would say.

Merritt Kopas’ new little game Dee’s Big Night is great, especially with YOUR ASSHOLE DAD’S CASTLE IS BACK AGAIN as companion reading. The Lion’s Song is also a cute, atmospheric little work.

If there really was such a thing as universal collusion among the games press, I would hope it conspires to make Justin Smith’s Desert Golfing the game of the year 2014. Wouldn’t that just be the best, under the circumstances. It could happen.

Love Always

I’ve committed to trying to do a ‘Monday digest’ here at this site, not just rounding up my own work from the past week, but pointing to other articles and new games I like. Of course, it’s now Wednesday, so, uh. How do you think that plan is going so far?

I was in Cologne last week for GDC Europe and a little bit of Gamescom, so I’m a bit behind, but before I get to that, I want to comment on something that’s been upsetting the hell out of me lately.

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Announcing Clipping Through: A new book and a new content plan!

I’m excited to announce I’ve written a new ebook, available now! It’s called Clipping Through: One Mad Week In Video Games. It centers on my travels earlier this year from London through New York to GDC 2014 and it documents my time there. It’s available in PDF, Kindle, iBooks and hell, DOCX format, because why not.

This isn’t just a book to me: Please read on!

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