Category Archives: Uncategorized

This Website Is Old And So Are You

Maintaining a personal website used to be something that everyone did — now thanks to social media it feels like a bizarre hold-over, an obligation I no longer relish. Please assume everything you see here is probably at least somewhat out of date. If you’re looking for a bio or a CV from me best to email leighalexander1 at gmail dot com and get the latest. Meanwhile:

My public Twitter and Facebook are still the best places to keep up on my work.

Follow my tech culture articles and podcasts at The Guardian; I contribute to a few different publications, like the wonderful How We Get To Next, via Medium so follow me there; I’m going to be writing about digital mysticism at VICE Motherboard, so bookmark this, and my first science fiction novella, set in the Android: Netrunner universe, is out now! You don’t have to be familiar with the game to enjoy it.

I have a small community-funded video project called Lo-Fi Let’s Play, which is about soft talking, keyboard tapping, and archaeologies of strange old computer games and obsolete design forms. Please consider helping me continue it.

I am also quietly doing a little bit of writing for games and other interactive projects so if you have the budget for a writer and you feel I might be a good fit, I would welcome your enquiry.

Other than that I no longer write about video games, really — Laura Hudson and I stopped working on my final alt games writing project, Offworld, at the beginning of 2016. We successfully fundraised a massive collection of our site’s best game criticism for backers earlier this year — the digital edition is out and the color hardcover will be coming soon to those who bought it.

At World’s End

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.

The 2015 Farewell Tour

Well! We made it through 2015, everyone.

I had an amazing year. I gave talks all over the world, I hosted panels at IndieCade and GDC and spoke at PRACTICE, I launched Offworld, published a host of amazing people, I started writing fiction, I started running 10ks, and I got engaged. There’ll be some big changes ahead for me in the New Year and I can’t wait for them. But for now, I thought I’d real-quick round up some of the things I did this year that I’m proudest of:

MONA, a short story abut a creepy person, themed around Silent Hill 2 and illustrated by Emily Carroll

The New Intimacy Economy: The future dystopia isn’t a cold Orwellian nightmare, but a Lucky Charms hell-world of hearts, stars and overly-cozy apps

If you like that, you’ll like Monitor, my upcoming book in the Android universe that fleshes out some of the lore around NBN, the corporation I play in Netrunner. You don’t have to play Netrunner to appreciate the book, which is coming out hardcover and digitally early next year. MY FANFIC IS CANON NOW

I went on Antony Johnston’s Unjustly Maligned podcast to ‘defend’ the Twilight series. Yeah

I recorded this Lo-Fi Let’s Play of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego in a Helsinki airport on my way to Malta, while being tracked around the world by creeps on message boards

I gave a keynote at the University of Michigan School of Information’s John Seely Brown Symposium about the inherent value of non-commercial games. This is probably the best talk I’ve given and most perfectly expresses my view of the medium

I wrote about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, a fascinating video game about video games, at VICE

At Wired, I took a swing at SXSW’s clueless brush with games culture, also it’s Diversity Paddock approach to fixing the problem

Why Bob Ross is the perfect let’s play-er, and how the late painter’s phenomenal outing on Twitch encapsulates the beauty of watching and learning

The clone that wasn’t: Can two game developers possibly have ‘just come up with’ the exact same idea?

One of my favorite creators of the year is Kitty Horrorshow. Here is why

My favorite game of the year is probably Wheels of Aurelia. Or Bloodborne, but I didn’t write anything about Bloodborne

All the women I know in video games are tired. On the complicated mantle of carrying this conversation

Everything else I wrote this year, from features to tiny discoveries, is here. When I read over it all I remember what it’s like to be filled with a defiant love for games — you know, the bold and the weird and the gentle ones — even still.

This New Year’s Eve I’ll be out in London with Rey hair and Furiosa face, wearing plastic-jeweled heels I brought back from India. Happy New Year to all of the makers and the readers, wherever you will be.

The good news

By now you’ve probably already heard, but just in case: Boing Boing is relaunching Offworld, its games label, with me at the helm and with the incredible Laura Hudson as senior editor. It’ll be a space where we publish writing from women and other voices that games have marginalized; it’ll be a space where we’re allowed to enjoy diverse games and culture again, instead of only ever being invited to reveal our wounds or perform as activist novelties. Long past time for that, huh?

Welcome home. There’ll be a working RSS eventually, but for now follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and help spread the word by sharing articles and posts you enjoy. We need your support to make this space thrive.

Since a lot of people have asked: We are a small colony to start. For the moment there are no open submissions and we do not have any jobs to offer; rather we’ll be reaching out to commission individual contributors on specific topics, and hopefully working with more and more people as we grow. While we are curating quite closely now, we’re listening to everyone who’s interested in participating and are excited that there’s more interest than we can manage! If you’ve already emailed me and not heard a reply, I’m doing my best!

As we’ve explicitly said, Offworld gives priority to voices we hear from less often. We want to be a source of balance in the games space,  and to show the industry’s more diverse side, so at least initially we’ll be prioritizing accordingly. Surprisingly I’ve gotten an outpouring of messages from women asking to work for free just so they can be included, and lots of the women I most want to work with (and pay) had to be asked first. Dudes, on the other hand, send me resumes and rates confidently and unsolicited. It’s always fascinating to notice who feels qualified to put themselves forward and to ask for money, and always important to remember that sometimes what it takes to diversify spaces goes beyond a shrugged shoulder and a ‘well, we invited everyone, but no women or people of color applied.’

I don’t intend to sound self-congratulatory whatsoever. I know a lot of people are very hopeful about the site and we will do our best to meet those hopes. But I also think an essential part of progress is to accept I — or anyone in a position to contribute to change, really — am going to screw up sometimes. Maybe immediately! Thanks for your patience and kindness, even if at the end of the day it’s just a little video game blog we’re talking about here.

I’m still recovering from GDC, of course; if you read my book Clipping Through you’ll know how mad and wild and wonderful and intense a week the conference can be.  Oh hey, speaking of my self-published stuff: By popular demand I created an page for both editions of my new short story, MONA, for people who prefer to buy things with PayPal.

Highlights from GDC: Raph Koster, Gordon Walton and Rich Vogel share learnings from their extensive experience with online game communities — a lot of them help explain the internet climate we find ourselves in. 11bit Studios’ Pawel Miechowski talks about the deliberate design decisions that led to This War of Mine‘s conflicting, impactful experience. Fantasy narrative design veteran Christy Marx (she worked on Jem and the Holograms!) talks about storytelling techniques for mobile games (yes, even Zynga games).

Here’s the inimitable SWERY65 with tips on how to shake up boring old design conventions, get inside the player’s head, and offer distinctly weird experiences.

For the third year I helped Brenda Romero chair the #1ReasontoBe panel, a celebration of women in the industry and their diverse contributions (we’re hoping to include more non-binary industry folks in future, too). It was an incredible experience. I think all of us doing the panel, as well as everyone who attended, deeply needed a positive, defiant space like that, needed the seven or so standing ovations for our great speakers, and the tears lots of us shed together.

Recently I was also a guest on the new Unjustly Maligned podcast with Antony Johnston. It’s a neat concept — guests come on to talk about the things they love that everyone else things are awful, and in my case I got to finally lay down all my favorite pro-Twilight pub rants in one convenient recording. Yeah! You heard me! Twilight! (Bonus that I forgot to mention on the show: Also read ‘Fredward Bound‘, this brilliant, funny, complete “new translation” of the first book).

I’ll be investing in Offworld with all my heart in the days to come, so please come and visit us. We hope you’ll be happy there.

I’ll keep you posted

I’ve been traveling for so long that being in New York City, the place I called home for almost 11 years, is surreal. It’s so cold here! Can a little time abroad really have struck from my memory the record of how cold it can get — this grid full of brick and glass wind-tunnels, the ice trenches that form in the crosswalks, the filthy, towering snow-mountains on every corner?

In my last post I talked a little bit about the travels and conferences I’ve been up to. Since I’ve gotten back to my little underground home annals here in the city I’ve mostly been recharging, but there’s still some news for you!

Excitingly, MONA, my newest self-published work, is now out. It’s a short story with illustrations by the award-winning, amazing Emily Carroll, and you can check it out on Gumroad — I’ve also set up an page for those of you that like to pay with PayPal. Mona is part urban “moral horror” story, part game criticism, and I’m super grateful to all of you who are interested in and support my experimental work.

I’m also proud to have contributed to the launch of Hopes&Fears, a sweet new culture publication, with a piece on that Law & Order episode about us. 

I also wrote a piece for Medium’s ReForm channel about Ringly, the glamorous piece of wearable tech that solves the wrong problem. It’s called “Let’s Ignore Each Other Together“, and I think you might like it.

In just about a week I head out to SF for GDC. That means it’s the one-year anniversary of the experiences that led to last year’s little book, Clipping Through. I’ll keep you posted.

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.


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.