Critical Intel NOW AT ZAM.COM!

Hi folks, and welcome to the tardiest and least-surprising announcement post ever written!

If you’re reading this, it’s likely you already know that my games, politics, and history column Critical Intel is now running at the excellent website ZAM. I’ve been meaning to write an announcement post about it since — well, since it started running again back in February — but the pressure to produce columns, manage novel rewrites, and manage other life things meant the blog got back-burnered. No longer, though!

The good news is that since I’m announcing this four months after the column relaunched, I can list my favorite columns out of the nearly two-dozen I’ve published so far.

Check it out:

The Ballistic Politics of Hideo Kojima — Kojima’s games, known for being politically bizarre, make a lot more sense in the context of Japan’s postwar peace and non-proliferation movements.

A Historical Defense of Battlefield 1 — Think a WWI first-persion shooter is in bad taste? On the contrary, it could spread awareness about a neglected historical period.

The Division is a Terrible Tom Clancy GameThe Division is a very good shooter, but its background neglects the nuance Clancy brought to politics. Worse, it perpetuates dangerous — and debunked — myths about what happens during a disaster.

Birth of the Flight Simulator: Part I – Genius and Scandal / Part II – Link Goes to War — The first flight simulator was built in the basement of a New York organ factory. Its adoption by the US military is a story of love, scandal, patriotism, war profiteering, and violent air crashes.

Thanks for your patience, and keep reading! I’ll have more CritIntel updates here on a regular basis — there’s good things to come.

How to Introduce Your Friends to Anime (And Not Make Them Hate You)

Rain was a big part of my upbringing. Sure, there were beach days, and park days, and mall days, but the reason Hawaii stays so green is that when it rains, it rains.

And it was on one of these wet afternoons that I saw my first Anime. I was thirteen and my friend Sean gave me the hookup.

“When we get to my house,” Sean said. “We should watch Gunsmith Cats.

“What’s that?”

“It’s awesome. It has gunfights, girls, and car chases. This one assassin has a knife that shoots its blade like a gun. It’s an anime, but only two episodes.”

“Cool, let’s watch it.”

And lo, it was awesome. Sean had not undersold the series’ manic energy. I was hooked.

It wasn’t the first time Sean tried to get me into anime, and it wasn’t the last. But this was the most successful time. But after Gunsmith Cats, I didn’t watch anime again for three years.

This wasn’t due to scarcity, you understand. Hawaii has a majority Asian population, and as a result it’s littered with the stuff. Growing up I could get anime from most locally-owned video rental stores, and importing from Japan was easy and relatively cheap. The kids I went to school with were as likely to read untranslated manga as they were X-Men (local families considered it a good way to learn Japanese). Having been raised in a heavily Asian-influenced culture, I didn’t even have the cultural roadblocks that stop most people.

Yet I never caught the wave, and still haven’t fully.

It was only later that I realized why: anime fans are horrible at introducing their friends to anime.

Before you burn the comments section to the ground, let me explain.

You know that friend who you’ve been trying to get into anime? The one who resists or defers? They’re probably avoiding it because they like you.

Here’s what often happens when you tell a fan that you’re interested in anime:

“Oh my God have you seen Gunsmith Cats? It’s so amazing you should totally watch it. Then you should watch Cowboy Bebop. And Evangelion. And all the Miyazakis. And Graveyard of the Fireflies. And Rurouni Kenshin. And… And… And…”

That’s when I say: “Oh boy, that’s quite a list! I’ll check those out right away.”

And I never do.

This is for a couple of reasons, one being that if you hammer me with a big list of titles, I’ll just forget them. Sorry, that’s how the brain works. Without context they’re just names. Give me one series that’s relevant to my interests, sell me on it with a short summary, and I might check it out. For example, I finally watched Cowboy Bebop because a friend described it as “noir Star Wars.” Why’d that work? Because I like noir and I like Star Wars. Period.

Anime’s best feature is that it has something for everyone. There’s sci-fi anime, fantasy anime, drama, romance, mysteries–pretty much every genre gets a seat at the table.

But that’s also its worst feature. For newcomers, anime is like an un-sorted Netflix. There’s a lot of good stuff, a lot of bad stuff, and outsiders have a hard time telling the difference. Even after you choose a series, you get into the question of where to start. Take Lupin III, for example (I also like Lupin, by the way). There are over a hundred episodes that stretch back decades, ten movies, and five OVAs–a term most non-fans are unfamiliar with. Then there’s the manga series.

Where do I start? Do I have to read the comics? If I just watch the movies, will I understand who everyone is? Where does this live-action film fit in?

A lot of people get overwhelmed and never start. Or they have a guide to help them, and we get into a different problem…

What if I don’t like it?

Anime fans, here’s the biggest problem: sometimes your friends don’t watch your recommendations because they’re afraid they won’t like it.

Not because they think you have bad taste, not because they think it’s weird, but because they don’t want to disappoint you.

Let’s break that down.

Say you’re my friend, and you’re trying to convince me to watch Cowboy Bebop. You’ve spent the last twenty minutes describing how great it is, all the reasons I’ll love it, how it’s one of the best TV shows ever made, etcetera. In other words, you’ve spent a significant amount of time telling me how important this show is to you.

And I don’t watch it, because what if I don’t like it? Or what if I like it, but not as much as you do? What does that mean for our friendship? You might be disappointed or upset, or feel like I’ve made some sort of judgement about you. Will I have to pretend to like it, just to avoid hurting your feelings?

In other words, by hyping it up so high, you’ve not only created an obligation for me to watch it, but to enjoy it as well. It’s become enforced fun.

This phenomenon is in no way unique to anime fandom. Ask any non-sports fan who’s been pressured into joining a fantasy league. Ask the friend of a bookworm who gets novels for Christmas. Or–in my case–ask all my friends who I’ve pressured into seeing movies.

Because, yeah, I had to learn this lesson myself.

When I lived in Austin, I got really into the film scene. I attended at least two festivals a year, had filmmaker friends, and took a deep dive on foreign films. In particular, I developed a taste for Korean thrillers and Japanese weird cinema. Ask me what I’d seen lately and I’d recommend ALL THE FILMS. I made lists and linked people to blog posts. You must see this!!

And people (mostly) didn’t. Because they loved me. I finally realized this when my dad told me he’d rented Moon and didn’t care for it. And yeah, that hurt, but what hurt more was how apologetic he sounded. He worried I’d be mad, or would think less of him, or that it meant we were less close. The way I’d built it up made him uncomfortable.

Which was silly, because all it meant was that he didn’t like Moon. So what? It didn’t put us on opposing sides. We weren’t getting sorted into pro and anti-Moon camps. It was just a movie, not the goddamn Butter Battle Book.

I run into this with my wife all the time. We’re nerds, but we’re nerds that have different tastes. Over the years I’ve accepted that she’s going to like some stuff I introduce her to (Jessica Jones), like other stuff okay (Marvel movies), actively dislike some (James Ellroy novels) and occasionally become a bigger fan than me (Game of Thrones).

It’s a two-way street. She casually introduces me to things all the time. Some I run with, some I don’t, but we never feel like it’s a judgement on our relationship. Instead, we focus on what we can enjoy together.

And that’s the trick: it’s casual.

Instead of OMG THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER YOU HAVE TO WATCH IT the introduction goes something like, “Hey, I’ve been watching this thing and I think you might enjoy it. Here’s what it is. Interested?”

This method works with friends, too. When people discuss what they’ve been watching or playing, I’ll mention something I like and outline why they might like it too. If they ask where they can find it, I tell them. Most of all, I try not to overhype (that old habit is still with me) so I don’t create a feeling of obligation. It’s the same reason you only give someone a book if you’re really certain they’ll want to read it and like it when they do. Otherwise it just sits on their shelf, or worse, they read it and lie about liking it because to do otherwise feels rude.

If something makes you happy, it’s normal and healthy to want to share it with your friends. You might even say that’s one of the fundamental elements of friendship.

But it’s also healthy for friends to like different things. So if you’re trying to introduce a friend to anime, maybe ease up. Let them take the lead. Make sure you’re spreading joy, not mandating it.

Your friend will thank you.

TL;DR version:

Liking things is cool.

Introducing friends to things you like? Double cool.

Making them feel like they have to like it? Not cool.

2015 Writing Year in Review


Happy New Year!

*Throws champagne, drinks confetti*

The last few hours of a year always seem to bring on reflection, and this year’s no different. The last 365 presented many changes for me–I left the Escapist,  had a book chapter published, landed some new outlets, and went to work at a writing tutor. Added to that, I started doing podcasts and video scripts for the first time.

So before the clock turns, here are some of my writing highlights from 2015:

Favorite Piece: “H.P. Lovecraft, Master of Environmental Horror” (Slate)

My primary writing goal this year was to branch out, and nothing exemplifies that better than this piece about Lovecraft’s increasing relevance in the age of environmental destruction. No video games here–just literature.

Biggest Achievement: Shooter

Shooter was a big point of pride for many reasons. It’s my first book publication, first off, but it also scored a couple of nice reviews and has some gorgeous art.

Largest Growth Area: Podcasting

When I began 2015, I’d never taped a podcast. As of today, I’ve appeared on the ChattyCastThe Freelance Game, and Covert Contact from Blogs of War. I’ve come to really enjoy it and hope to do more in the future.

Favorite Interview: “Military Expert P.W. Singer Predicts the Video Game Wars of the Future” (Playboy)

P.W. Singer’s a fascinating guy, and his book Ghost Fleet provides a scary look at a future where games and military tech are increasingly merging. It’s a topic I’ve followed for years, and I’m glad public consciousness has finally turned to this crucial, and sometimes worrying, development.

Favorite New Outlet: Extra Credits

I’d admired Extra Credits long before I began writing about games, and I couldn’t be prouder that I’ve leant my hand to two episodes this year. The first was on how games can re-approach WWII, while the second was the crucial question of where our consoles come from.

Weird and Wild

I also had a couple odd ducks this year, both at Playboy. The first was an article about visiting the Resident Evil haunted house at Universal Studios Japan–and all the weird Japan-ness that ensued–while the second tracked the real history behind Assassin’s Creed Syndicate‘s ghost stories.

So that’s it for 2015! I’ll have some more news on the way early next year, so watch this space…

I Talk Games and Conflict at Blogs of War


I appeared on Blogs of War’s Covert Contact Podcast to talk about games and warfare.

Discussion topics include:

  • How games (often erroneously) portray warfare
  • Call of Duty‘s strange evolution as the premier military series
  • The merging of video game tech and military hardware
  • How VR and gamification will change how we live–and how we fight

This was a great chat, and it looks like I’ll be returning to comment on games there from time-to-time, so keep watching my Twitter feed!

Extra Credits: Where Do Consoles Come From?

Once again, I’ve collaborated with the folks at Extra Credits on a topic I’ve followed for a while: supply chain problems in console manufacturing. Proud as punch serve as a co-writer with EC, and hey, is that Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame? Damn.

This sounds like a dull issue, but it’s increasingly important. Our globalized economy provides mind-boggling manufacturing power, but it also hides the people who actually make the objects we use in our everyday lives.

Give it a watch:

I’ve Got Some Assassin’s Creed Ghost Stories at Playboy

AC Dickens

There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago…

Man, ghost stories at Christmas. Can I live at your house, Andy Williams?

The only holiday ghost story at my house is A Christmas Carol–but then again, it’s pretty great. Victorianism and Christmas go together like eggnog and brandy, and what did Victorians love more than anything?


Don’t believe me? Well guess what: Dickens himself was a paranormal investigator-I’m dead serious, it’s a documented fact.

And you can read all about it in my new Playboy article “The Truths Behind Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s Ghost Stories.”

I can’t emphasize how much historical weirdness is in this article. It has:

  • Queen Victoria Being Creepy
  • Lincoln Attending a Séance
  • Mourning Warehouses
  • Spring-Heeled Jack
  • The London Monster
  • Trance Mediums Making Out With Clients
  • Spirits From Beyond Calling for Women’s Suffrage

Check it out–or I’ll haunt you.

Playboy, Lovecraft and Pikachu: A Post-Halloween Article Roundup

It’s been a busy time — as a writer who loves ghosts, ghouls, and everything spooky, the Season of Shadows always means more work for me.

Now that we’ve hit November (aka post-Halloween depression season) I can finally take stock and update what’s been going on.

First of all, I visited the interactive Resident Evil haunted house at Universal Studios Japan and wrote about it for Playboy.

By the way–that link is now Safe For Work since Playboy‘s gone nude-free.

I also had a just-for-fun piece on GamesRadar+ about all the ridiculous outfits the Pokémon company has dressed Pikachu in. Are you ready to see a J-Pop Pikachu? Is anybody?

And finally, I wrote a piece for Slate‘s Future Tense Blog on how H.P. Lovecraft is an unrecognized master of environmental horror. It also has some thoughts about how society tends to age out of certain fears, and age into others.

So that was Halloween. Bring on November! Gonna be a good one.


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