SHOOTER Review Roundup

What critics are saying about SHOOTER: 15 Critical Essays About Games With Guns:

When a piece of criticism grabs you by the collar and demands you take a second look at something, you know it’s doing its job right.

Nic Rowen, Destructoid

Shooter asks us to look at shooting games and say something more than “lol shooters” or the dreaded “ugh videogames.” It’s about looking the largest, most successful commercial products square in the face and trying to figure out what the hell they’re all about. It’s about looking at a format, or an expectation, and tracing its existence from massive blockbusters down to weird anomalies like Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth.

Cameron Kunzelman, Paste Magazine

A group of writers and their essays that could–nay, should–shape a broader understanding of games.

Tyler Colp,

Where to Buy SHOOTER:

SHOOTER on GumRoad — Mobi, PDF, and ePub files

SHOOTER on Amazon Kindle Marketplace

SHOOTER: Available for Purchase Now!

SHOOTER is Here!

Fifteen critical essays on shooting games–a collection for genre fans, design students, and anyone interested in what happens when we digitize the gun. That’s a lot of value for $5 USD.

And did I mention the art’s jaw-drop-fantastic? Or that I get to perform a postmortem on one of my favorite odd-duck games, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth?

My chapter description, from the publisher:

The Lurking Fear: Firearms in Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

Robert Rath examines the danger and unreliability of the guns featured in Headfirst Productions’ Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. In highlighting the risk, both physical and psychological, of using firearms as weapons, Rath reads Dark Corners of the Earth as a commentary on the real-world power of the gun, and paints an interesting contrast with a genre that takes the power and skill necessary to properly use a firearm for granted.


Either click the image above, or this link. The eBook’s available in PDF, Mobi, and ePub formats.

SHOOTER Releases Tomorrow

You hear that? A magazine scraping, a bullet clacking into place, a hammer hovering.


Fourteen essays on gaming’s most popular genre, delivered straight to your brain like a Glock 18 on full auto. Essays on war, insanity, brotherhood, and all the complex territory we cross into when we fashion an entire chunk of gamespace around firearms. Not to mention the swank art I’ve featured here.

The book releases June 2nd. There is no pre-order option, but once it officially releases you can buy it here in several formats (or click the cover on the right).

Until it releases–chill. Sit back. Have a cup of tea.

So, *sip* you ever hear from that Cortana girl anymore?

SHOOTER Release and Update Roundup

There are times when the writing life gets busy, and the last six months have been one of those times. Since I last posted:

  • I’ve been in five countries.
  • My workload completely changed.
  • The gates of sunken cities opened, unleashing horrifying possibilities heretofore unimagined by this world.
  • …um, by which I mean I got some exciting opportunities. Lovecraftian opportunities. More on that in a second.

So here’s a roundup of what’s new, what’s old, and what’s been keeping me up at night, giddy with the prospect of unleashing it on readers.

SHOOTER Releases June 2nd

Shooter Cover

SHOOTER is an ebook of critical essays about FPS and action games. Various ink-in-the-blood game journos contributed essays covering a single game each, ranging from the Modern Warfare series to Kane and Lynch 2. It’s not a history of the genre, but a window into specific experiences shooting mechanics deliver. I was already excited for the release, then I got a PDF proof copy and now I’m chomping at the bit to show this thing off. It has guns, blood splatter graphics, striking illustrations (that I can’t show you yet) and other face-melting sweetness. There’s a forward by legendary Ubisoft developer Clint Hocking. Chapters on propaganda in Haze and the image of Germans in Brothers in Arms. Hell, the first chapter’s a meditation on Battle Garegga.

Oh, and also a chapter by me. Did I forget to mention that? I’m writing about the unique vision of firearms in Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, a game that made the player fear his own weapon. It’s an FPS where suicide felt like a real threat.

What’s in my chapter? Shotguns! Cultist mobs! Eldritch horrors! Insanity!

Buy it on June 2nd–please? I get royalties.

Entering Final Edits on LOST GUNS

This summer I’ll be attending the Historical Novel Society Conference to pitch LOST GUNS, my debut historical thriller novel. After this latest draft, I feel quite proud of the old boy and glad I decided to play rough with it.

Sometimes you have to break the bones to heal them straight–true in surgery, true in editing. You’ll hear more about LOST GUNS soon, so I’ll leave it at that for now, but know that wheels are in motion.

Speaking at PAX East and on The Freelance Game Podcast

In March I traveled to the snow-blasted wasteland of Boston for PAX East, where I moderated panels on history in games and geek travel. (YouTube videos incoming once I have a spare moment to edit them.) I also appeared on The Freelance Game podcast to talk about column writing. All of that? Tons of fun.

Leaving The Escapist and New Game Journo Horizons

For a variety of reasons I decided to voluntarily leave my columnist position at The Escapist. It was a difficult choice but one that I don’t regret. After nearly three years writing Critical Intel for the magazine and the climate having changed significantly since I began contributing there five years ago, it felt like the time to pull up stakes. I’ll always be grateful to the editorial freedom The Escapist gave me, and my time there gave me the space and guidance to grow as a writer. I wasn’t sorry to go, but I did find it sad.

But I haven’t stopped working in game journalism–not by a long shot. While I can’t announce anything yet, I’ve been brewing up new projects behind the scenes that will come to fruition soon. One of those projects involves Critical Intel anthology ebooks, and another could land me some work with people I’ve admired for years.

Have You Made Word Count Today?

Have you made your word count today? See below for answer:

A) Yes, I was good and made word count. — Good on you, writer! Take a rest. A whisky-assisted rest.

B) No… er, I mean not yet. I was just about to maybe… — Shush. Go make word count. Actually, need to make word count, now that you mention it. Let’s go make word count together, shall we? We can be a word-counting team.

Get thee to a word processor!

A Short Statement On GamerGate

Note: I drafted this statement for publication alongside those of my colleagues, but at times the wheels of official channels turn slowly. Because I feel it’s important and already long overdue, I’ve published it here.

I can only apologize to my friends that I have not said anything sooner. Early in the controversy, my family and I made a decision not to risk hacking, doxxing and death threats by engaging the topic officially. My thought was that given the tenor of the debate, my opinion would do little good to change minds while exposing my loved ones to harassment. In other words, I was successfully intimidated.

But ultimately I’m a writer, and if I can’t use that skill to help my colleagues when they’re threatened with death, what should I use it for? I can only hope that staying quiet in official channels (I have spoken about it on Twitter) has not given the impression that I do not support or stand with the victims of these heinous attacks.



He fires a shot into the classroom ceiling and orders all the men out.

“I am fighting feminism,” he tells the remaining women.

“We are not feminists,” says one. “We have never fought against men.”

He answers by executing them, left to right. Twenty minutes later, fourteen women are dead and another fourteen students wounded. The shooter’s suicide note blames his actions on “radical feminists.”

This is not a theoretical scenario, it’s the coroner’s report from the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre. This is what an anonymous terrorist meant when he threatened to conduct a “Montreal-style attack” during Anita Sarkeesian’s Utah State lecture.

It appears that, in addition to being threatened with violence for speaking out, you can now be threatened for listening.

I’m not here to debate what GamerGate is or is not about. That conversation is immaterial to the current situation. Hacking, doxxing, and death threats are criminal acts, not rhetorical devices. No discussion can occur while people flee their homes.

Our sole priority right now must be safety.

Defending GamerGate as “not about misogyny” ignores the point. For some members it clearly is about misogynist violence and always has been.

I therefore call on GamerGate’s supporters to abandon it in the interest of public safety. While these zealots may not represent you, for as long as you continue to use the hashtag, you’re representing and emboldening them. Internal policing is inadequate – you can’t block/report an unstable man with a gun.

We can talk about ethics later, right now we need to ensure no one leaves this “debate” in a body bag.


If you are interested, other Escapist writers have also published thoughts on the controversy:

Bob “Moviebob” Chipman

Sarah LeBoeuf

Carly Smith

I would like to thank all my colleagues for their support and strength during this time.

Three Great Halloween Board Games

I’m already getting amped for Halloween.  It’s hard not to be in Hong Kong, where the Ghost Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival mean that the season’s already steeped in specters and harvest imagery before October even arrives.

And once the season of the witch officially starts, I’m ready to go berserk on everything Halloween — including Halloween board games.

Board games  are perfect Halloween accompaniments. They bring friends together, away from the night chill (or stifling heat, if you’re in Asia like me).  A good game pairs well with popcorn, tiny candy and hot chocolate, and the role-playing elements speak to the season’s masks and costumes.

So here’s three Halloween board games to get you into the season.


Betrayal at the House on the Hill (3-6 Players, $38.60 Avalon Hill)

There is a house that sprawls in every direction. A handful of investigators enter, exploring the tumbledown rooms to find the house’s secrets. But the mansion is alive and watching, and will soon turn one of the investigators against the others.

Betrayal at the House on the Hill is a strategy board game with a brilliant gimmick—the board is never the same twice. As the players move through the house, they pull each room tile at random, building the house as they go. The solarium might be next to the crypt. A wine cellar could hide a secret entrance to a pentagram chamber. The mystic elevator can deliver you to any door in the house. The players poke through the ruins, gaining items and activating “omens” until enough cards get dealt to trigger the “Haunt”—one of fifty scenarios from an included booklet. Once the Haunt begins, a random player gets labeled the “traitor” and controls whatever nasty creatures appear, trying to fulfill some dark plan. The other players use teamwork to stop the traitor’s dark ends.

Betrayal brings B-movie horror to life. The tone is creepy without being ghoulish and the scenarios have sufficient variation to play several times in a row without getting bored. One game might have the players fleeing from a mummy while the next sees the entire house being pulled into hell piece-by-piece.


Witch Trial (3-7 Players, Free Download from Cheapass Games)

It’s an age of superstition and social tension, when accusations fly and social deviation can bring a charge a charge of witchcraft. You’re not a witch though, and neither is anyone else, really – you’re a lawyer in the middle of this madness.

This lucrative, lucrative madness. Because you don’t really care who’s guilty or innocent, just like in real life, what matters is who makes the most money.

Of course there’s a problem – witchcraft isn’t exactly illegal per se, at least not in the small-town Edwardian times depicted on the cards. So instead you’ll have to charge people with lesser crimes like golfing, swearing or tampering with the mail.

In Witch Trial, you’re a legal mercenary, defending or prosecuting suspects on a whim depending on how much they’ll pay in fees. The guiltier the client looks, the more they’re worth if you win – but the harder it is to convince a jury.

Each turn, players buy evidence cards and match charges with suspects in order to bring a case to trial, with another player opting in as defense council. Depending on the client’s guilt rating, they jury level’s set at a number between one and twelve. After players put down evidence cards to move the jury level up and down, the defense attorney rolls two dice – if it’s less than or equal to the jury score, the client gets off scot free and the defense gets the money. If not, the prosecution gets the cash. And the client… well, who really cares about that guy anyway?

Witch Trial is exactly the kind of zany fun you expect from the folks at Cheapass Games. It’s fast, fun, easy and leads to an incredible amount of deal-making and wagering. It’s also free at the Cheapass website.


Werewolf (9-17 Players, Free)

Lie. Misdirect. Maul and lynch your friends! Werewolf is the ultimate social game of deception and mob rule. A moderator deals out a single card to each player, which they keep face down. Most players are Villagers, but two are hiding something—they’re secretly Werewolves, bent on devouring the Villagers in their sleep. Each turn has a day and a night phase.

During the night phase, the players close their eyes. The Werewolves open their eyes and silently decide who they’re going to kill. After they let the moderator know, they close their eyes and a special villager, the Seer, opens her eyes. The Seer can peek at one person’s card per turn, exposing their true nature to her.

During the day phase, everyone opens their eyes, and the moderator reveals who the Werewolves killed. Then everyone—Villagers, Seer, and secret Werewolves—start arguing about who they want to lynch that day. It’s a classic exercise in social misdirection. Werewolves try and direct suspicion away from themselves. The Seer tries to influence the decision without giving herself away to the Werewolves. When the players universally decide whom to lynch, they flip that player’s card and find out whether they’ve killed a shape-shifting murderer, an innocent townsperson, or even their Seer. Alcohol and grudges building up over multiple rounds things a lot more fun.

Werewolf works best when you play with ten or more people, and tops out at about seventeen. You can play it with an ordinary deck of cards or even post-it notes with the free online rules, but there are also professional versions available. Ultimate Werewolf ($17.99) is the most expansive set, with a dozen optional character cards. The Werewolves of Millers Hollow ($10.76) has several extra characters and the most attractive card art. Are You a Werewolf? ($7.99) is a budget version with lighter card stock and a few blanks to create your own special characters.

Help Me Update My Halloween Playlist!

I’ve been working on monster-and-ghoul-themed columns for a Critical Intel Halloween series, but my yearly Halloween playlist is getting a little stale.

I need song suggestions to keep my mad scientist lab a-rockin’ while I sew together all the myths and legends I’ve dug up.

Here’s how the playlist stands now:

This is Halloween — Nightmare Before Christmas
Werewolves of London — Warren Zevon
Weird Science — Oingo Boingo
I Put a Spell On You — Creedence Clearwater Revival
Science Fiction / Double Feature — Rocky Horror Picture Show
Hell — Squirrel Nut Zippers
Zombie Jamboree — The Kingston Trio
Thriller (Single Version) — Michael Jackson
Dry Bones — Fred Waring
(Don’t Fear) The Reaper — Blue Oyster Cult
Season of the Witch — Donovan
Sympathy for the Devil — The Rolling Stones
Beetlejuice: Main Title — Danny Elfman
Dead Man’s Party — Oingo Boingo
White Ghost Shivers Ball — White Ghost Shivers
Mr. Crowley — Ozzy Osbourne
That Old Black Magic — Kevin Spacey
Oogie Boogie’s Song — Rodrigo y Gabriella, Nightmare Revisited
Ghostbusters — Ray Parker, Jr.
The Headless Horseman — Bing Crosby (Disney Legend of Sleepy Hollow)
Way Down Hadestown — Anais Mitchell (Hadestown Musical)
Grim Grinning Ghosts — Disney’s Haunted Mansion
Autumn Leaves — Paula Cole
Ghost of Stephen Foster — Squirrel Nut Zippers
Halloween Theme — John Carpenter
Red Right Hand — Pete Yorn (Hellboy Soundtrack)
Witchcraft — Frank Sinatra

Any thoughts?


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