The best way I could describe 2015 for me is ‘decompression.’ 2014 was a definite low point in my life and I found a lot around me crumbling away. I can’t say I’ve necessarily recovered, or healed, or feel certain about my path moving forward, but maybe, finally, the dust has settled enough so I can start to see into the distance. I wonder if we can see that in my writing? So here’s a review of my most popular writing of the year:
Despite coming in late in the year, it looks like people really enjoyed my letter series with my various friends from different parts of games (though now that I’m in New York, it looks like I’m due for a Canada visit!). If I had to take a guess as to why, I think it’s because we’re oversaturated with various thinkers shooting out their thoughts into the abyss, loosely in conversation with other people unless it’s a direct conflict. We rarely get the opportunity to witness two interesting people having a relaxed but engaged conversation with each other. For me personally, a lot of my ideas become more solid when I get to talk about them, and I also tend to become inspired most when another person and I struggle over an important topic. I think these are also unique because there’s a lot of hostility in the world when it comes to expressing strong ideas, and people feel afraid of saying something controversial or else they will have to face some social media backlash. Here, I’ve established some trust and so can say whatever with these people (you can see me backpedal a lot in my conversations with John). Overall, I’d like to do of these and keep these conversations going in the new year.
Not too much of a surprise that this got controversial, it was meant for that. I know some people found this piece to be a little inaccessible, or way too much of a posture, but that was what this piece was for. It was directed to a very particular group of people (games academics) with a confrontational style that went up against normative assumptions or conventions surrounding theorizing about games. And that’s what I love about blogging, that I can write things that aim to be populist or target a specific group of people, I really enjoy being able to shuttle between many different groups of people and ways of speaking. This is an extension of my Death of the Player article, written around PRACTICE a couple years ago, into a manifesto to challenge games canon. I think we should embrace manifesto creation a little more, I think it provokes the right people to come out of their publishing frenzies to engage with us who have a little more flexibility in what we write. There is so much to challenge in what we think about games, the very core about how we approach and appreciate them. The assumptions surrounding players is one of those conventions that desperately need to be shifted, especially in my vision for how play evolves as a method of expression.
This was a tough piece to write! Not only a difficult topic itself but there were a lot of emotions around the initial offending piece. There’s a lot of struggle organizing around queerness, which makes sense since queerness is ultimately an always-shifting idea in a world that wants to pin it down to something concrete. I’m becoming more and more convinced as time goes on that identity-based organizing is self-defeating; not only does it only frame an identity as the only thing necessary to be a part of a group (instead of, let’s say, being a safe person to be around), it actively encourages the solidification of identity so people can be both included and excluded. It’s understandable why queer organizing started this way, because numbers were small (and still are, relatively) and queerness was a much larger stigma that it became important to shelter as many as possible. But with the increase in numbers and the blurring of what queer is, it seems like there needs to be a stronger sense of intentional community that doesn’t rely on identity-based markers to feel supported, and not have a need to find out whether or not someone is truly queer enough while not losing any integrity to its founding cause.
Hopefully by now most people have a grasp of my sense of humor, though it is blurred both by writing and distance via the internet. This isn’t really a review, though it could be I guess, I wanted it to be read in line with everyone else’s reviews but not necessarily see as an appraisal, since I don’t find a lot of value in assigning something good vs bad labels. I had a really strong reaction to this game, it felt very intimate and vulnerable, like Davey was showing the world something about himself that people could righteously condemn but through making himself vulnerable he expressed something higher than all that. I was surprised at the kind of reactions the game ended up creating in media and critic circles, and I think that’s when I felt like I should write something. I wanted to also put myself out there, as there were real people who read my piece and got the message. I have no idea if they ever played this game or what their feelings were, but I know people could easily see me as petty for using such a public platform for writing the things I do. But ultimately, I don’t want people to see me as a good person, and not a bad one either.
Though I’m pretty sure I wrote this from a place of bitterness, it shows a point where I started to realize really how deeply, deeply misguided wanting representation in media, in the way it’s being campaigned now, is for our current struggle. I am beginning to see more value in venerating how marginalized people are cast as monsters and shadows in the way of the main hero, because that’s more real. I understand the want or need to have marginalized people as the heroes, it’s another sort of escape fantasy. Because when you’ve lived so much of your life vilified, you want something positive. You want society to tell you that you’re good and also the hero and you can do the same exact thing that normative dudes do. But as I’ve looked further into it, I see that this is another arm of assimilation, dominant culture taking what it wants to benefit itself without truly changing, just doing enough to keep its growth at a profitable rate. Like anything else, I keep my critical eye on media that is mostly the same but star more marginalized people, because we may be in them, but whose stories are coming out of our mouths in these sort of experiences? I’m skeptical.
I wrote this at the very beginning of this year, I had almost forgotten about it! I really enjoyed writing this, though I was super unsure if it’d be appreciated. I was playing with the idea of stealthily turning this into a part food blog, and this was my first attempt at something. I don’t really know why people liked it so much, maybe it was just a different metaphor that readers aren’t so used to. Which reminds me that I have to try this again! Now that I’m in a more wintery place, I should start experimenting again with infusing wine for mulling season. I’ve wondered how to tie this strongly to play to make it relevant to my blog, maybe you all have ideas? Or maybe it’s just interesting enough to have a diversion every once in awhile? This bodes well for some of my experiments I want to do in coming months, so look out for those!
This was a really fun piece to write, and I admit, a bit of shitpost. I’m trying not veer away from controversy-of-the-day kinds of writing, but I was extremely intrigued by Hot Ryu, if not just for the tone change of games twitter. I wondered how straight guys viewed what was going on, it reminded me a bit when Boyfriend Maker had its hot 15 minutes, everyone looking at how absurd games are when we try to look through the lens of feminine desire, aimed at men or any other gender. I’ve also been continually looking for method for populist critique with problematic material, or at least, how everyday people can critically engage with the things in their lives without feeling the need to conform to some sort of canon. I’m following that line of thinking into my future work, and I’m glad I got the moment to exercise that with Hot Ryu and know people are interested in exploring this avenue of thinking more.
Another one I’m surprised got so high up in the rankings, I guess people want more social excuses to drink? Reminds me that I need to plan another one of these for a snow day now that I’m in a place where that happens. I think what was most special to me about going to a drinking game jam was that, outside of people who specifically don’t want to drink, there was a low barrier to entry for this event. I always get asked questions re:diversity about how to get different people into games events, and my answer is always to shift what is the normal for games communities to what is normal for wider society. At least in American culture, everyone is familiar enough to know a drinking game when they see one, and could easily think about how to remix those into a new game. I find introducing game design or playful thinking easy when you don’t have the trappings of video games around it. We had a nicely mixed group and everyone had fun, and it was actually a super simple event to create and run? I recommend more to do similar things!
Ah, quite the emotion time and tough piece for me to write. I’m a little more used to the idea that I’m not really a fit for the industry or wider games communities anymore, and I will have to find my niche outside of games or maybe in academia, but then, having that dawning on me, was really painful. I felt a lot of signaling that I only mattered so much, even after a lot of pain I was put through. I’m glad I got to write this though, because I’m sure there will be people feeling a similar way, either those who came around the same time I did or after. It’s easy to get disillusioned in games, though I do see some younger people finding their way into games. I hope it goes better for them, but it’s possible I’ll be staying lost.
There’s a joke here for how the most popular piece for me this year was about men, but seriously, it was a good long post I needed to get out of me. It was part of a practice for me to further understand emotional boundaries in relationships and how power imbalances affects that, and wanting some sort of resource that doesn’t read like it was out of Cosmo. If for just one time, I wanted something that felt actionable that didn’t cast anyone as a bad, spiteful, or broken person, even though I will be the first to complain about how men’s ignorance really fucks things up for me. I think we need to be able to at least envision the neutral ground, the place we know we need to work towards before we tackle through the hard stuff. I was glad to get a lot of emails and responses from men who really found this helpful, especially to share with other guys. I honestly do believe, 100%, that the change we want has to start in our lives, through the mundane and seemingly trite details of our everyday motions. Dismantling power isn’t glamorous, it isn’t some intensely beautiful and shocking paradigm shift. We will go through our days not noticing much is different until an artifact of the past jars us out of our new ways of looking at things, to see see we’ve gone somewhere. Ultimately, I want us to refocus from the sweeping campaigns on social media and low inward to how we are actually leading our lives instead of advocacy by proxy. I think maybe if we can do that, we can solve some of the hurdles we’ve been facing this past year.
And that’s that! Thanks for supporting me this year, I was only able to survive because people are supporting my work. Have a fun and safe new year, see you on the other side!
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