Before I get into my year in review, I want to tell a story. On Nov 10, I was asked to critique some final project proposals at SPFC. I went even thought I wasn’t really in the right mindset. It was 2 days after the election and I was still raging hard, about two seconds away at any given moment from starting a fistfight, bracing myself for the waves that would hit me, my community, my circle of friends in the new year. My apologies to the amazingly talented SFPC class, because I wasn’t able to pay a ton of attention to anything other than the ringing in my ears that somehow only seemed to get louder and louder.
I remember snapping out of my anger-trance when one student asked us alumni (paraphrased): “How do you keep up your mood and productivity when there’s so much to do to keep up with everyone else?”
I’m not sure what filter broke in my brain, but I blurted out: “Well, first you have to remember that productivity is a capitalist lie.”
The students looked at me, grins breaking out on their faces. I got emboldened and riled up, as I do so easily. “No one ever feels like they do enough, by the way,” I said. “Here, let’s do an experiment. Everyone in this room–alumni, students, teachers–raise your hand if you ever feel like you’re falling behind, or like you’re lazy and don’t do enough.”
Every hand in the room–including the teachers’–went up.
“There you go,” I said, leaning back in my chair. “Some of you are new to this field, some of us give lectures on it, some of us even have some level of fame. But we’re still all insecure messes. You’ll never feel like you’re doing enough, so don’t try to find fulfillment through sheer mass of stuff. Prioritize avoiding that mindset means you prioritize not burning out, which means you stay healthy enough to make the art that the rest of us need.”
Several students laughed, relieved. I realized everyone was looking at me, and that I’d just made a Big Proclamation. I turned bright red and waved the discussion on to someone else. But a couple students came up to me later to thank me for being honest, saying that it helped them feel better about their own insecurities. Less alone, less behind.
Writing a year in review feels suspiciously close to buying into the first mindset: the casual, confident list of things we’ve gotten done until this point, all through the lens we want to portray on social media. Like a CV, but worse. None of the guts, all of the glory.
At the same time, it’s good to celebrate what we’ve done. It feels nice to spotlight things we’re proud of, especially if they didn’t get the most press or outside love.
I think a decent in-between is to have a year in review that only cites the things that really made my heart happy. Everything else, to skew an old saying, is just PR.
My favorite posts
This the thing I’m proudest of in 2016, by a country mile. If “Riot Grrrl Game Design” was my design manifesto, then “Playing With Resistance” was my call to action. This essay took at least a year for me to get right: it only snapped into place after the election, which is a pretty bullshit silver lining, but I’ll take it. Close readers will notice that it includes a ton of books that I loved at the end of 2015.
The essay is about how developers can be pigeonholed by outside forces to make a certain kind of personal game, and how that pigeonholing can curtail our ability to make temporary utopias/places to practice power, for ourselves and each other. It is my baby, and if you pay attention to one thing I did this year, it should be this.
My favorite interviews
As most of you probably know, I teach, and I have a very…….. “dynamic”……. teaching style. A combination of extraordinary excitement and pure panic at public speaking, it involves a lot of big gestures, goofy metaphors, and the occasional pratfall. It’s part Feynman lecture, part Marx Brothers movie.
This is probably due at least in part to seeing Dan Shiffman teach Processing when I was first learning the platform. He’s absolutely delightful and unafraid to be silly, which I think is rare in programming instructors. I admired him hugely (and still do), to the point where, when I first met him, I didn’t say anything for about the first half hour because I was terrified I would just blurt out awkward compliments.
So, imagine my delight when he asked me to be part of the show! What follows is a remix of the Riot Grrrl Game Design talk, plus some excellent questions from Dan and his crowd. It was a great time, and I can’t recommend his show highly enough.
I was incidental to this piece, which is primarily about Death By Audio Arcade Collective founder Mark Kleback. My partner (in life and in crime) Andy Wallace and I are both members of the DBAA Collective, and have our very own arcade cabinets for our games (PARTICLE MACE and Slam City Oracles, respectively). Even when my cabinet is breaking or crushing my fingers or needing to be schlepped up a flight of stairs, it gives me enormous satisfaction: I was once a kid who dreamed of having an arcade cabinet like the ones I would obsessively play on, and now I do. Pretty fucking cool.
Anyway, I shotgunned a huge coffee and then I think at least two beers before this interview, so I am about as cheery/pumped/charismatic as I can possibly get. It’s a great piece and if you want to see a bunch of folks gush about arcade culture and new arcade cabinets, you’ll really like it.
Look ma, I’m in a book! I did a long interview with John (one of my professors during my MFA) about the iterative process behind Slam City Oracles. As you probably know by now, I adore talking about methodologies and process, and John is a wonderful and super-insightful interviewer. Great book, definitely check it out.
You may remember Membrane, a project I did at the NYT R&D Lab that used common web tech to make new avenues of communication and feedback between authors and readers.
Not too long after 2016 started, I left my job at the R&D Lab. I was nervous about what would happen to my project without me there, but I assumed the code would be open-sourced eventually, since I’d gotten approval on that and the department had said it would be in a public blog post.
It wasn’t. Cue sad emoji.
I didn’t want to let something I worked so hard on (and learned so much fucking golang for, Jesus Christ), die. At the same time, I was pretty sure it wasn’t my IP, and even as a law school dropout, I figured I couldn’t release it myself, or talk about its nuts and bolts more than the department had publicly revealed already. I figured a happy (and legal) medium was to continue talking about why I had made it: walking through the experiences with game design (which is, to some degree, audience/player/designer feedback) that led me to get curious about this field, and to use it as a prompt to inspire other people to make their own experiments. If it couldn’t be a finished product, or open sourced codebase, it could at least be an interesting provocation. The reception to my talk about it at BiB shows that people seem to think it really, really is.
Also, BiB was just lovely–got to spend some time with some incredible people (Samantha Gorman, Ali Osworth, Mohini Dutta, Joe Veix, among many others I’m probably forgetting) who gave wonderful talks, all orbiting around ideas of digital texts. Smart people and Mission burritos? Hell yeah.
Anything else that doesn’t fall under those categories?
Sure! I started a wonderful new job at The Office for Creative Research, which is full of lovely people who manage to pull off dataviz magic on the reg. I got to work with the amazing people at Feel Train–it was amazing to learn from them on a technical, managerial, and operational level (running a worker-owned tech co-op is pretty fucking rad in my book). I got to hang out with some Real-Ass Newsdevs, a field/group of people I categorically have a huge intellectual crush on, at both SRCCON and while contributing to the Open Source Playbook.
Plus I got engaged! To my deepest love, closest friend, and–perhaps most important–best playtester. Expect a Duke Nukem Forever timeline til we actually plan a wedding, though.
Is that it?
That’s it for this list! If you want to see the rest, you can look at my CV or portfolio.
So do I feel Adequate or Successful yet? No, lolololol, of course not. And writing this list only makes me wonder how much less I have compared to other, more Adequate and Successful people (who, y’know, obviously aren’t insecure or anything like I am). But it does remind me why I do this, why I get better, and where I want to be next year. I hope you can look back on your own accomplishments this year, in whatever field and on whatever level they are, and appreciate them too.
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