Gamers at the Gates of Gamergate: The GateGate Saga.

I haven’t weighed in on Gamergate. In part because it feels like spitting in the ocean at this point. The people actually involved have told their stories, smarter folks than me have opined about them, and far, far dumber folks than me have had the opportunity to spew slurs in the comments sections there. Yet, thanks to the game content I’ve written for Cracked, I keep getting prodded about it. So here it is, the only things I have to say about Gamergate:

1. I think there’s something perfectly legitimate in the complaints about the laughably corrupt review industry.

2. That’s not how this whole thing started and everybody knows it. There’s no disputing that this all started out with attacking a woman for her personal life, based on a provably false accusation of corruption. The scramble to make it about “larger problems about reviews” only came about after public opinion turned on the rampant misogyny. It’s classic deflection.

3. If you want to talk seriously about paid reviews and incestuous practices in the game industry, fucking fantastic. Do that. It needs to be done. Most major review sites are entirely useless these days, everything is a B+ at least, and I’m sick of wasting my cash on crappy games because a marketing guy in alligator shoes bought somebody lunch. Take that shit on, it’s a good fight. Just call it something else. How about #reviewgate? How about #alligatorgate? Sticking with the label isn’t helping anybody. Let’s say a story breaks tomorrow insisting that Hitler has come back to life to lead the white race to glory. A bunch of Nazis whoop it up, spewing slurs and death threats against minorities on the internet. That story turns out to be false. I would not then try to piggyback my government-issued-jetpacks-for-voters argument on that story and call it HitlerGate. Those things have nothing to do with each other, and insisting on maintaining that connection would just degrade my current, very valid argument.

4. Instead of worrying about Gamergate, I have been playing video games. It has been a lot of fun. Have you played Shadow of Mordor? Fucking Tarka Man-skinner. Asshole. I killed you by hiding in a bush and shooting you with an arrow one time and you’ve been making fun of me for it ever since. You’re the one that died, dick!

5. I really miss that period of about 5 years, between 2007-12, when being a gamer was totally fine and we were not considered flailing assholes best confined to basements and convention centers. We can get back to that, but only if we shut up. Right now. Starting with me.

Machinery

Another old piece, this one written about eight years or so. I can’t even call it a story – an exercise in description, I guess? Pure prose? Weird bullshit? You be the judge.

The doctor moved stiffly from bench to bench. Disinfectant hung heavy in the air, flavoring it with the slight aftertaste of a foreign, chemical burning. The girls watched the projector intently, strapped to their seats, their eyes unwavering on the film being played there. He took the opportunity to test the dilation of their pupils, the color of their gums, and adjust their medication. The half-light of the projector cast a dim, brakish quality to the room. Like looking through the porthole of a ship at night, its glass gone nearly opaque from the decades-old patina of scratches across its salt-worn surface. He still had dozens of girls to see, and the film was quickly spooling downward.

She felt the pull of the pistons on her lungs as they filled with incendiary smoke. The shafts descended, drawing the worn leather of her lungs with them, filling her with the churning fog. There was a dark rumble, a hold, and a muted clap as the motors within her reversed. The pistons pushed, and as her airways ballooned with the pressure, she spewed the wavering gasses from her chattering, wrought iron teeth. She used the energy to set a few rods into motion, the ones that pulled her eyes from side to side. The gearwork that controlled their vertical axis ground into life, groaning its protest faintly. She looked around her, drew another long breath through her baroque intake system, and vented her exhaust in exasperation.

The bulk of her, all that which you could see anyway, lay twisted in a small room full of little girls. The girls sat patiently at individual stations, so infinitesimally small as to be virtually unseen. Her joints, long since rusted, slipped and caught, slipped and caught again as she struggled into life. The massive grills on her head wobbled momentarily, before obligingly shifting direction. She expelled another vast cloud of spent, burning fuel across the room, trying to avoid striking the girls directly. They seemed oblivious to her ruinous presence. They were enraptured by something at the front of the room. Her eye gear lumbered to a halt, wavered, then adjusted force to the forward rods. The massive bulbs of her eyeballs, clouded with dust and the burn-off of old filaments swiveled to the follow the girls’ gaze. Her sight-line caught a figure moving amongst them, and the intricate mesh of cathode tubes that composed her brain began to fire.

Gargantuan lengths of chain were called up from the stores beneath her, each link a toggle that could be switched from vertical to horizontal, from yes to no, from nothing to something. Several thousand of these lengths began to rattle and vibrate as they were spun at faster and faster revolutions through the millions of switching centers scattered about her head. Eventually a tally of all switches was made, imprinted on another chain, and sent to the image recognition stations in the sockets that housed her eyes.

An older man stood among the girls. He was dressed formally, the only one there not in uniform. The girls, all young and identically clothed, waited patiently, bolted into their stations. As the man moved about the room, he would pause, periodically, to exam one of the girls more closely. The girl would then activate, culling a response from what little thought those tiny heads could hold, and the man, seemingly satisfied, would continue his patrol about the room. The crude metalwork of her chains sizzled and snapped as they were spooled and unspooled, run and re-run, switched directions a hundred times a minute. Some glowed white from the friction, others had yet to move an inch, their nigh infinite length inert, running solemnly away into the darkness below.

Perhaps this interaction, crude though it was, operated as a facsimile of a switching station. Perhaps there were a million rooms identical to this one, joined end to end in a vast labyrinth of halls filled with tiny, tiny girls. Perhaps the man was the switching station, the girls the toggles. He modified them, one by one, and they responded. They moved from yes to no, from nothing to something, from one to zero, and he took their tally. He would, once this operation finished, send their collective response to another room, and another man would modify his set of little girls into a different arrangement, and send his response again. The labyrinth would hum with motion, information congealing in the air like a tumultuous mist until a set pattern of all the rooms was determined. There to be sent to an even bigger switching station, one which would run the infinitely dense program written by the girls and come to some grand, cosmic conclusion.

So what, then, was her part? She was aware of herself, as a mass of hard iron and burnt steel in a net of soft, vulnerable flesh. What was her function here? She sent her now insignificant seeming toggle system into motion, and awaited a response. The radiant heat of her switching stations flexed and bent her struts, the million different metal strikes inside of her joining and rejoining until they were only one pure note of activity, until there was an abrupt stop.

Ah, of course. She knew now what she was; she was the relay. She was to send the patterns of the girls from room to room, each with their own version of her, and all in communication. What was information without a system with which to send it? What good were these massive algorithms of girls and quaint, formal men without her billion chains to send their calculations onward? Purpose was found, purpose was necessary. She was validated, was a valuable cog in the machinery of the grand decision. Ten million toggles switched and switched back; they sent a feeling of contentment to her. The man had completed his tally, made his adjustments, and strode amiably towards her great and complex façade. Her sight-bulbs flickered into light, rotated, and caught his signal.

He was asking her a question, but something was wrong. She had no method to accept his input. He used no gears, no toggles or chains, no punch-cards or switches. He made a sound at her, again and again. Just sound, like that of clockwork and bells, and she had no way to respond. Seventeen thousand miles of chain whipped into action, they rotated and whirled about her data centers, their message was a state of being she was forced to assume. It was that of fear, and she received it. She coordinated a desperate chain of information, and when the message was impressed upon it, licked out onto tons of forged steel, she spewed it outwards at him.

She hoped desperately that he had the necessary tools to read it.

The massive glass globes of her eyes rolled frantically around in their housing. Her clumsy, rusted digits tapped in useless agitation. The steamwork boilers that ran her chains chugged desperately in the abyssal depths of her gut. The steel-ribbed bags of her lungs pulled in shallow, hurried draws of the burning smoke that fueled her engines. She waited apprehensively, conflicting acres of chain running fear, hope, desperation, and anticipation through her switching stations at random. She retracted the message chain halfway, and hurled it at the man again. It is a message, she wanted him to know. She needed him to haul one of its great links into his mouth, run it through some unseen network of gears, and understand.

“She threw up on me,” the doctor said, dripping unpleasantly in the middle of the auditorium “twice.”

Superpowers, Limitations, and Characters

I picked up a Playstation 4 this weekend, along with Infamous: Second Son. I loved the first one, and it took me a while to pin down exactly why. It’s not because of what it does well, but because of what it doesn’t do. One of the most interesting aspects of superpowers, to me, is their limitations. An example: Locomotion in the first Infamous. They could have just bullshitted their way through it and had your character fly, but instead, you ran from rooftop to rooftop, jumped on powerlines or railroad tracks, and hopped on top of passing trains. You could coast a bit in the air, sure, but it wasn’t flying. It was much more satisfying for its limitations. It’s why Spider-Man’s web-swinging is so beloved, but nobody gives a shit about Superman or Iron-Man or a thousand other superheroes flying about.

That’s probably indicative of why I couldn’t get into Superman and Iron-Man in the first place. It’s not that they’re too powerful, or uninteresting characters, it’s because their powers are too varied. There was always the sense that they had a million tools for any job that might come along. And if they didn’t, the writers would just write them a new one. That’s some lazy storytelling right there. I always thought superpowers worked best when they were confined to a single theme: You can control electricity. What do you do with it? Do you just shoot lightning bolts, like Thor? Thor’s a basic bitch. Why not take it a step further and control power to machines? Or you could really push the envelope, and realize that thoughts are just electrical impulses in the brain, and damn – your one limited little power just became godhood.

I loved what they did with Magneto in the ’90s and onward – he went from flinging sawblades at people to manipulating the iron in their bloodstream. I wrote a whole story-arc about this kind of thing for an animated series that got caught in development hell, and will probably never see the light of day. It was a parody pop culture reference show, so we got to use existing characters. In one arc, I had our heroes tutor Aquaman, the Wonder Twins, Hawkman and Robin on how to be actually useful. Playing around with exactly what a character cannot do is some of the most fun I’ve had while writing.

Now, I’m not terribly far into Second Son, but so far it’s doing things pretty well. There’s a sort of smoke-based system of movement, where you duck into vents and get launched by fans. It’s not quite as fluid or intuitive as the powerlines from the first game, but it’s better than just generic flying. However, I get the sense that, based on what the story has revealed so far, the hero is about to get a lot more powers. He’s not going to use the existing ones in increasingly interesting ways, he’s just going to get loaded down with whatever new ability the writers want to confront the situations they throw at him. I could be wrong, but that’s the sense I get. And if that happens, that’s where they’ll lose me a little bit. It’s something I try to keep in mind while writing, and not even necessarily about superpowers: Sometimes the limitations are what make it interesting. Without them, you’re writing generic infallible protagonists, rather than human beings.

And now, if you will excuse me, I am going to blow up a truck with a heat missile.

If anybody asks, I was talking about the game.

The Unnoticeables Cover Reveal

Tor.com revealed the cover for my latest book today, and to call it awesome would be insulting. They need new words to describe how amazing this cover is. Alas, they would need a better writer than me. The best I can do is combine ‘fuck yes’ and ‘awe-struck’ and call it ‘awe-fucked.’

The Unnoticeables RD 1 selects A

Poor Will, his art deserves better subject matter than I can provide.

Check out the actual post for some of the many unbelievably cool alternates we didn’t get to use. Choosing between them was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do — and I beat Mega Man II.

Bukz 9/14

This week’s reading list is a bit…optimistic. Awestruck Optimus Prime and Vehicle Voltron for scale.

bookz

I’ll be happy if I can manage it by the end of the month – but then again I am really excited about all of these. If I emerge in a week’s time bleary-eyed and reeking, asking you what year it is, just roll with it.

Mirrored

A really old short. 2004 maybe? There’s a kernel of a good story here, and a few nice moments — but damn this thing is overwritten. Just shut up, younger me, and let the story tell itself. 

 

 

I tapped at the mirror lightly, and found it solid. I ran my fingers along its edges, decades of dust collecting on the pads of my fingers. They became chalky, and I quickly came to dislike the tactile feel of it. I rubbed my soiled fingers together and the sensation was like a sound running through my bones. A twitch shocked its stilting way up through my spine, and I shuddered. I wiped my fingers on my jeans and tapped at the mirror again, finally finding a loose shard of glass. I pried one end up with my fingernail and pulled it free. A small image of me shined and shifted across it. I narrowed my eyes, trying to spot any differences. There was nothing – a mole under the left eye, a wrinkle across the brow, a few days worth of stubble, a scar – wait, there. The scar. In the mirror, the end beneath my chin forked outward, forming a very faint cross. I pulled the Polaroid from my back pocket and held it next to the mirror. The images of my face – one static, one fluid – were nearly identical but for the scar. The picture scar turned only on one end, hooking off to the left. The mirror scar split into miniature crossroads, mere millimeters across. Satisfied that the shard held a difference, I set it down at my left foot and took a picture. The camera was old, dusty itself. It whirred and clacked like an ancient steamwork machine, the faint rumble of engineering feeling solid and important in my hands. The new Polaroid ejected, filmed white, and picked out the image slowly, finely, sewing up details in threads of color. When it finished, I set it at my right foot, and the older Polaroid I had used for comparison between them. I lined them up carefully, and focused on the crossroads of the scar.

“I see it. I’ve found it. The scar is different; the mirror shows forks at its end where there are none. There. There’s no point to it now, I know you’re there. Come on out, we need to talk.”

I focused intently on the mirror, and waited through the long silence. Dust mites drifted through slashes of sunlight; I could hear them fall. The mirror image focused back, did not falter.

“Here, knock it off, alright?” I said, growing impatient “you know the rules, I’ve found you. Out.”

The mirror self knit its eyebrows in worry, and reluctantly began to climb outwards. His hands grew larger in the reflection, caught its edges, and began hauling his body upwards towards my viewpoint. Something happened with perspective, the dimensions tilted nauseatingly as he worked his way through. A feeling like vertigo gripped me, and I felt the rising surges of a panic attack. I let it go, counted to ten, took a breath. And then he stood before me, the same in every way; the strain of fighting his vertigo showing on his face as clearly as I’m sure it did mine. When we recovered, he spoke first.

“How did you know?”

“Well,” I replied, pulling cigarettes from my pocket, “you’re not exactly the first.”

“How did you ever know?” He seemed tense.

“Vanity. Got a bad haircut in fifth grade, kept looking in the mirror. Obsessing. I memorized every hair of it in anticipation of the shame of showing up to class. I was passing a broken mirror in mom’s hallway when I noticed the part was a full inch lower. I took a picture to make sure, held them together, wondered out loud what the hell was going on and there you go; I found myself popping out of a mirror and asking me just what it was I wanted. Thought I was crazy. Spent two years in a hospital.”

“Jesus…how many have you found?” He asked, eyeballing my pack.

“Want one?” I put the cigarette up to my mouth, held one up for him.

“I…well, I quit actually. A few years back…”

“Huh. I never could get it to stick. Still,” I gestured the open pack towards him, “if there was ever a time…”

He took one from the pack and held it between his lips. I noticed it trembling.  As I lit our smokes, I caught a strange sense of déjà vu. Somewhere I had seen this before, this lighting of my own cigarette in a long forgotten storage locker, this striping of shadow and light, this dust falling like distant snow through the lazy nebulas of afternoon sunlight.

“Déjà vu,” we both muttered.

He looked shocked for a moment, before we put it together. Somewhere, right now, another pair of us were doing this same thing. Only with minor differences, of course. His hands shook as he smoked.

“You avoided the question,” he insisted.

“Right you are. How many have I found, was it? Honestly, I don’t even know any more. I did it over and over again after the hospital, just to make sure I wasn’t crazy. Tried showing the doctor, once. You know how that went.”

“God. The blurring.”

“Yeah, anyway, dozens probably. I had a lot of regrets, to start with. Now I’m just fucking bored.”

“Boredom? You would do this out of boredom?” He was smoking furiously now, his pacing carving little rivers of bare floor through the dusty landscapes.

“Boredom can get big. It can get mean. I thought I had it good here, but everything was too ordinary. It’s a good life though: Syl is still with me, I have a decent enough job writing copy for pharmaceutical ads, no kids, beach house, all good stuff. It just doesn’t feel like the one, though. Something is missing here, something I haven’t had yet.”

“Syl…she’s still with you in this life? Is she, uh…is she okay?” I had piqued his interest apparently.

“She’s gone in yours? She was in my original life, too. That doesn’t happen a lot, maybe four or five times out of all the ones I’ve been through. She left?” I exhaled a cloud of smoke through the fog of dust, it swirled symbols in the air.

“No. Dead. Cancer. Took years. God, it took fucking years. Another?” He gestured towards my pocket, and dutifully I offered another cigarette.

“That’s a first,” I said. “Not exactly promising. She’s still with me in this one, very much alive. We’re pretty happy, all told. At least she is, and I keep her that way. So you get something out of this too, see. It’s not all bad.”

“You’d still go, knowing she’s dead in mine? Why?”

“The fuck would I care, honestly? She’s not really my Syl, you know. Mine left. Fucking a doctor in Virginia last I heard. You can have her again, if you want.”

“I don’t think you’d like my life,” I lit his cigarette, and he continued mapping pathways across the floor.

“Then I’ll leave again. So what? I’d like to see for myself. I’ve been in this one six months now, sent this poor bastard to a place where he lost a hand in a rodeo, of all things,” we both laughed, imagining ourselves in rodeos, “I skipped as soon as I found out, myself. I imagine he had to explain how he suddenly grew a new fucking hand back to a few folks there,” the laughter died out, and we smoked in silence for a few minutes.

“Could I leave, too, do you think? If I don’t like it. I didn’t know anything about this stuff until you pulled me off the mirror, then it all just sort of came to me. Do you think I could do it too, now that I know?”

“No, you only know because I know. Once I leave, you’d have to find out for yourself all over again. Speaking of…” I shrugged towards the mirror and the self-photographs, lying absently on the floor like a shrine to narcissism, “I really should get going.”

“So…will I like it here? All of these decisions I never made, I mean…they’re not me, will I know it’s not me? I…Christ this is all a bit much…” he flicked his cigarette into the dark, where it smoldered, burned the dust.

“This one seemed happy enough before I came. You’ll find yourself slotting into everything like you’ve always been here just as soon as I go. These will be your decisions. This will be your life, not just something that could have been,” I stepped towards the mirror, gathering up my photographs and camera.

“And she loves me, here? And she’s…God, she’s healthy?”

“Yeah. It’s all rather homey actually, after the shit you went through I think you’ll do just fine. You’ll probably feel some kind of uplifting as your old life sloughs off onto me, and if it’s anything like when I came here first, you’ll get a whole new sense of gratitude for the things you have. That should be it. I have to be off now. Best to do it quick. Forgive me, but saying goodbye to yourself for the fiftieth time just doesn’t have the same impact as the first,” I raised a hand towards him in farewell, and headed towards the mirror. I reached to slot the shard back into place, and stopped. I turned and threw him the cigarettes. Leave the poor bastard something to remember me by, anyway. He smiled a little, and I snapped the broken shard back into the mirror again.

I must have been spacing out. I shook my head to snap out of it, and looked around the storage locker. What had I come down here for? I thought for a minute, but nothing came to me. I locked the gates behind me and headed back up the stairs. Syl would be home before me tonight, and I found myself suddenly missing her. Things were going so good lately, I don’t know, it’s all just so perfect. I feel like I’ve walked across broken glass to get here, all of a sudden, but heading home to her now seems like the best thing in the world.

Where the hell did I get these cigarettes?