"Yesterday, my life was headed in one direction. Today, it is headed in another. Yesterday, I believed I never would have done what I did today."

I’ve been running lately. My playlist starts with the U2 song “California (There is No End to Love).”  It seems like the right song for the moment, a song of finding hope and rebirth not in denying grief or in totally getting past it but in acknowledging that we need to grieve, that there’s no end to it and that this speaks to the endurance of love.

California, then we fell into the shining sea 
The weight that drags your heart down
Well that’s what took me where I need to be 
Which is here
Out on Zuma 
Watching you cry like a baby
California, at the dawn you thought would never come 
But it did 
Like it always does

All I know 
And all I need to know is there is no end to love

I didn’t call you
Words can scare a thought away
Everyone’s a star in our town 
It’s just your light gets dimmer if you have to stay
In your bedroom
In a mirror
Watching yourself cry like a baby
California, blood orange sunset brings you to your knees
I’ve seen for myself
There’s no end to grief 
That’s how I know

That’s how I know 
And why I need to know that there is no end to love
All I know and all I need to know is there is no end to love

We come and go
Stolen days you don’t give back
Stolen days are just enough

Yesterday, I believed I never would have done what I did today.

Welcome to the club, Talion.

This post contains the least shocking “spoilers” ever for something that happens about five minutes into the game Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.


Even if you don’t care about the troubling gender politics of underdeveloped female characters constantly being sacrificed to fuel a male character’s rage and our sympathy for that character, how can anyone, at this point, not be so fucking tired of encountering the exact same piece of “gritty,” “mature” character development for video game heroes over and over and over? How can anyone start a game that trots out this trope and not think to themselves, “Please, for the love of God, not this shit again!” How can anyone not roll their eyes at the incredible laziness of writers who don’t spend a second trying to come up with new reasons for men to be angry and go around slaughtering hundreds of people or orcs or whatever? When there are so many stories that games can tell, is this really what anyone wants, still more heroes whose wives and children have no real agency or value on their own terms but exist only to be killed and then avenged? 

fate is fate

"Well, does this make any sense to you?"

"It doesn’t have to. It’s just something that happens. It’s like seeing someone for the first time, like you’re gonna be passing on the street and you look at each other and for a few seconds there’s this kind of a…recognition. Like you both know something. The next moment, the person is gone. And it’s too late to do anything about it. And you always remember it because it was there and you let it go and you think to yourself, what if I had stopped, what if I had said something.  What if. What if. It may only happen a few times in your life.”

"Or once."

"Or once."

Out of Sight

Blue is the Warmest Color

“So here’s the thing – this country’s cultural pie gets bigger, not smaller, as more people are allowed to partake of it. When children and young adults see their lives and concerns reflected in the homegrown books they read, the films and television programmes they see, the computer games they play, they feel they and their lives are not invisible. Seeing yourself in the cultural world leads to a sense of better social inclusion and a feeling that you are part of something, that you have a stake in it and wish to add constructively to it. For some – like me when I read The Color Purple at the age of 21 – it plants the seed of an idea that maybe you too could be a part of the rich cultural heritage of your country.”

U.K. children’s author Malorie Blackman, “Racist abuse will not stop me seeking more diversity in children’s literature” (The Guardian)

I love this whole editorial. Read it. It reminds me of how some people argued with me that games like Gone Home were a threat to games like Call of Duty, as if there is a finite amount of representation to go around and giving more to women and queer folks and people of color means taking some away from straight white dudes. The editorial ends with this:

And for those children’s publishers who may feel more diversity in the books they publish is no longer needed in the 21st century, I invite them to read the comments under the Sky interview. They reinforce rather than detract from my arguments. Change is a fact of life. We move forward or we stagnate. My hope is that the UK publishing industry as a whole will embrace that fact.

And that’s exactly right. People sometimes make a similar argument about games, that it doesn’t matter, we’re beyond all this as a society, that we shouldn’t make an issue out of who the protagonists are in the games we play. But just looking at the comments on just about any positive review of Gone Home is enough to demonstrate how much it does matter, and how far we still have to go.

(via squinkyhatesvideogames)

On Having a Feminist “Agenda”

Yesterday, in praise of Emma Watson’s speech at the UN and in criticism of feminist voices that have engaged in serious feminist critique of video games, a major game designer tweeted this:

But here’s the thing: we will not, we cannot, actually move toward gender equality without having a kind of agenda to do so. This is not to take anything away from Watson’s speech, which, it seems to me, was meant to rouse people, to galvanize them, to get them excited about participating in a movement that, one hopes, will guide people to take concrete steps toward the realization of a more equitable society, and which served this purpose admirably. But in the speech, Watson herself references the famous statement about how all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. It is not enough to simply nod in passionate agreement with Watson’s speech and then walk away, smug in the belief that, because you already believe in the notion that women should be afforded the same respect and the same opportunities and the same privileges as men, you are not part of the problem. 

I considered myself a feminist in some vague sense for a long time, but sadly, I don’t think that I really understood the importance of actively opposing patriarchy and actively critiquing culturally dominant ideologies about gender until I ran up against these forces simply by existing and trying to do a particular job as a transgender woman. Immediately when I started working for GameSpot and appearing on video for the site, numerous comments appeared from male readers arguing that they were the site’s customers, its target demographic, that the site should always put their desires first, and that for them, the role of women in games media is primarily to look appealing for them. By hiring me and putting me, a transgender woman who did not meet their criteria for attractiveness, on camera, the site was in dereliction of duty. The site was betraying its customers. Men, of course, could look like complete schlubs. Men were valued for what they had to say about games. Women were not. I knew then that I would never be valued by viewers in the same way or for the same reasons that my male colleagues were. And I knew that part of dismantling the culture that led young men to think of women in this way required encouraging people to think critically about how gender is portrayed in media.

It might be easy to say that this attitude is the natural stuff of immature teenage boys who will simply grow out of it. It’s not. It is culturally constructed and ubiquitous. On his most recent show, John Oliver skewers the Miss America pageant. My favorite moment comes at 5:08, when we see Donald Trump tell a reporter that she wouldn’t have her job if she weren’t beautiful. 

And yes, it’s crude and insulting. It might also be true. Women often are required to be attractive in ways that men are not in order to get roles in front of the camera, not just in games media but in all sorts of media. And how telling and terrifying is it that “the world’s largest provider of scholarships for women” is the Miss America pageant, which requires women to parade themselves around like specimens for a scientific appraisal of their attractiveness? The fact that women are objectified and marginalized and often valued primarily for how attractive they are to men is a culturally constructed reality, not an inevitable, “natural” one. It is both reflected in and fueled by media, movies and TV and games and magazines and beauty pageants, and the reality cannot be changed without the culture also changing. 

So, yes, it is true that I had something of an “agenda” as a game critic. I think that every critic could be said to have an agenda that is shaped by his or her experiences and worldview. In this interview, the creator of a new website states that the site is for “all gamers, as long as they aren’t pushing a socially political message. Because obviously there are people who game who have social messages that they want dispersed around, but we’re not in that business.” When asked if a review that criticizes a game’s depiction of rape would belong on the site, she replied, “That’s the sort of social message we’re trying to avoid.” But being committed to not engaging with the sociopolitical meanings in games is just as much of an agenda and just as much of a political statement as being committed to thinking critically about those meanings. It is an agenda blindly supporting the ideologies present in media, letting them sail on by uncriticized, un-remarked-upon, still consumed but not critically consumed, just thoughtlessly absorbed. 

So I don’t know what the game designer whose tweet, or those who reacted in vehement support of that tweet, are thinking. Perhaps they are envisioning some road by which we arrive at a world where women are truly afforded the same respect as men in our society but that also lets us continue to live in a world in which representations of women in games and on TV and in movies are so limited and are so overwhelmingly created specifically for male consumption. Perhaps they want to be able to treat women as sex objects in games without thinking twice about doing so, without ever feeling bad about it, while simultaneously saying that they believe in gender equality. But I’m sorry. It takes work. It takes action. We can’t get there from here without an “agenda,” and part of that agenda means challenging the poor, limited, limiting portrayals of women in so much of the media we consume, and demanding better.


Jacqueline Rose | Women in Dark Times


After the Wedding

every shipwrecked soul—on not hating the new U2 album

I’d been a U2 fan for a long time before the release of 2001’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, but this album elevated my love for the band, because it showed me that the human heart I thought I saw beating under the facade throughout the band’s output of the 90s was alive, and beating as pure and strong as ever. They seemed to have passed through the irony of Achtung Baby and Zooropa and Pop, decided that the irony had run its course, and abandoned it, returning with a record that stripped it all away to give us songs full of earnest emotions that at once felt big enough to fill the arenas and yet real and true enough to say something about how to be a real person in a world that doesn’t make that easy. The first words of the first song on the album are “The heart is a bloom. It shoots up through the stony ground.” And toward the end of live performances of that song, “Beautiful Day,” Bono sang, “The goal is soul.” I couldn’t agree more.

I was sick to death of irony in 2001, and I’m twice as sick of it now, when it sometimes seems like the worst thing you can be is sincere. I’m sick of South Park and Family Guy and caustic internet memes that don’t say anything but just make a joke out of everything. And so I admit that I don’t love the new U2 album as a collection of songs. I like it, but I understand the lukewarm reception it’s getting, and would never argue that it has the incendiary brilliance of The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby, that it’s as daring as Zooropa (it’s not musically daring at all), or that it’s as memorable as All That You Can’t Leave Behind. But as a big, goofy statement against irony, in favor of real feelings, I like it a lot. I also think that this goofy sincerity is why some people hate it. Notice how the mere title of the album alone, Songs of Innocence, is enough to make this writer exclaim in disgust every time he writes it.

So I actually think that, given the prevalence of irony in pop culture today, there is something a bit daring about putting out an album that is not simply sincere—lots of records are sincere—but that is so ridiculously sincere, so much a championing of the very idea of sincerity, that it seems to make some people sick. I have to believe that Bono is smart enough to know that U2 could have put out a less aggressively uncool record, one that was a bit more detached, more ironic. But Bono has sung before about placing being real ahead of being cool—“Be uncool, yes be awkward,” he sings on the B-side “Always,” and on the 2009 track “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight,” he sings, “The right to be ridiculous is something I hold dear.” I’m pretty sure he actually means it. 

In this Salon story about irony, Matt Ashby and Brendan Carroll write, “One attribute of a move toward something greater is to reject the safety of ironic remove and risk the possibility of failure.” And I think that for all its musical safety, Songs of Innocence does risk failure by entirely rejecting the safety of ironic remove.  

Of course, I have enough sense to cringe when I see images of Bono high-fiving Apple’s Tim Cook, and I accept that liking the album may be pretty close to the musical equivalent of liking a bad CBS sitcom, which is something I wouldn’t hesitate to judge someone for. So go ahead and judge me. But I’ll take goofy and awkward and earnest as hell over cool and detached and ironic any day. I’m moved by the grand gesture and prone to making them myself. I think all of us have struggles that are significant, and that those struggles and the emotions that come along with them deserve as accompaniment big songs, unmuddled by irony, about feeling real feelings and being real people, if we want them.  

And so when Bono sings, on “Every Breaking Wave,” that “every shipwrecked soul knows what it is to live without intimacy” and that “we know that we fear to win and so we end before we begin,” 

and when he sings on “California” that “the weight that drags your heart down, well that’s what took me where I need to be” and that “There’s no end to grief, that’s how I know and why I need to know that there is no end to love,”

and when he sings on “Iris” that “the ache in my heart is so much a part of who I am” and he pleads, "Hold me close, hold me close and don’t let me go, hold me close like I’m someone that you might know,”

and when he sings on “Volcano” that “You can hurt yourself tryin’ to hold on to what you used to be, I’m so glad the past is all gone” and later, “You were alone, and now you’re not alone,” 

and when he sings on “Cedarwood Road” that “a heart that is broken is a heart that is open,” 

I know that this is the U2 that I want right now, because to me, these things are true.

Destiny: A new hope, unfulfilled.

The cinematic that opens Destiny establishes itself as taking place in the present day, but everything about it—the spacesuits, the capsule design—seemed to me to take its cues from the science fiction films of the 1970s. I wound up feeling this way about so much of the game’s look. The technology I encountered in human installations on other planets that had fallen into ruin looked not like I now expect the machinery of the future will look, but how I think someone in 1977 might have thought the machinery of the future would look…


…and the fonts and iconography throughout the game all made me feel like I was on the elaborate set of a film from that era.



And it makes sense. I think our shared idea of what spacefaring science fiction looks like is still shaped by films like Alien and Star Wars, that there haven’t been new visions that have captured the collective imagination in the same way. So if you want to tap into notions of myth and magic among the stars, you look to those films for inspiration. Destiny wants to feel just a bit grounded. It’s set in our solar system, not a galaxy far, far away, after all, and those aspects of its design that remind me more of films like Alien—the corporate logos, the boxy, practical, industrial designs of some locations—give its universe a rough-around-the-edges, working-class feel that I find appealing. But Destiny is far more space opera than hard sci-fi, and it was Star Wars that I found myself reminded of again and again as I played the game. More specifically, it was the way I felt about Star Wars as a child.

In the opening cinematic, you’re introduced to the Traveler, a massive orb of unknown origin that’s embroiled in a timeless struggle against evil. What is its nature? Its very existence suggests the transcendent, that our universe is not just a place of science but of magic, too. 


And I can imagine myself as a child lying awake wondering about the true nature of the Traveler in the same way that, as a child in the early 80s, my imagination was captured by the idea of the Force. The religious beliefs my parents tried to instill in me didn’t take, but films stirred in me a desire to believe that there could be things in this universe that we can never fully understand. Destiny makes gestures in this direction, too. Sadly, they end up being empty ones.

And very early on, I loved the idiosyncratic look of my character. 


The game’s narrative doesn’t develop your character at all, but to me, her look suggested that this was a person with an interesting story. I was reminded of the rogues gallery of bounty hunters from The Empire Strikes Back, most of whom get almost no screen time, but whose looks are so distinctive and memorable that as a child, I was thrilled by the idea of their stories, and the larger universe their existence seemed to suggest.


I wanted the action figures for them, so that I could create their stories on my own.


And as I played through Destiny’s hollow story, a story full of vague mumbo-jumbo that doesn’t mean anything at all and is only the flimsiest excuse to send you from Earth to the moon to Venus to Mars, killing things all the while, this was the feeling that I kept coming back to. That I was playing with elaborate playsets and action figures that suggested stories and that have tremendous potential to tell them, but that don’t actually bother to do it. I honestly have absolutely no idea what it is I’m supposed to have accomplished at the game’s conclusion. There were words suggesting that my actions aided the Traveler in some way but there seems to be no stirring of whatever technology or spirit lies at the heart of the massive orb, which leaves me feeling like the game’s early hints of suggesting something transcendent or of telling a story that means something are just empty promises, nothing more than a framework for delivering its shooting mechanics and progression systems. Of course these things—the actual “game” part of Destiny—are refined and enjoyable. But because Destiny doesn’t follow through on the potential it establishes, they also end up feeling soulless, unlike the sci-fi the game seems to take its inspiration from. 

I’m glad Destiny exists. I enjoyed the time I spent in its richly visualized locations. I just wish the game matched the richness of their design in other ways. Instead, it leaves it up to me to imbue its characters and its locations with life. Destiny is a universe full of potential, but for now that potential is almost as dormant and undefined as the Traveler itself.


"No way out." #mashatupitsyn Love Dog, p191

(via mashatupitsyn)