Category Archives: Critical Intel

Critical Intel: Now at Waypoint!

Well, it’s been quite a year, hasn’t it? Here’s one good thing at least — my column Critical Intel has moved from Zam to Waypoint, the new gaming vertical by Vice.

I’m grateful for my time at Zam, but am excited to transition to Waypoint and the many exciting things happening there. We’ve got wonderful stuff in store, from deep-dive investigations of games and politics, to crime stories, to dispatches from around the world.

In fact, this Waypoint team is so good that my first thought was: Man, I’m really going to have to up my game to fit in here.

The first Critical Intel column is already up — it’s on the interactive Ghostbusters haunted house at Hong Kong’s Ocean Park, and what it says about Asia’s adoption of Halloween.

This is only the beginning! In the coming weeks and months you’ll get to see some of the best work I’ve ever done, that dives into the hidden subcultures and politics behind games. The columns will be less frequent, but more in-depth.

Thanks for following me on yet another publishing adventure!

firehouse-4

 

 


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.

***

Priorities

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.


I Discuss the Leland Yee Affidavit on Game Talk Live

If you’re a Critical Intel fan you’ve probably read my narrativized breakdown of the affidavit against Senator Leland Yee. In short: Yee, a California State Senator and anti-gun, anti-violent games campaigner, has been arrested on charges of accepting campaign donations for political favors, links with Triad gangs in San Francisco’s Chinatown and brokering arms deals for Muslim separatist groups in the Philippines.

Yeah.

And that’s where the craziness starts. Let’s not forget that Yee’s closest associate and main campaign fundraising official was also allegedly caught trafficking drugs across state lines and trying to hook an undercover FBI agent up with not one, not two, but three contract killers in a murder-for-hire plot.

Given all this John Woo-style insanity, the folks at Game Talk Live invited me on the program to give an interview about the charges. You can see an edited version here:

This was my first live talk show and I didn’t do too bad considering. My biggest gripe is that my wifi signal was too weak in the original place where I planned to give the interview so at the last minute I moved somewhere with good signal but bad lighting. Lesson learned. The sound delay also threw me a bit (there was a quarter-second delay Skyping in from Hong Kong), but the end product looks pretty good all told.

And hey, they used my Indiana Jones picture from Halloween! Sweeeet.

That was fun, hope to do it again.


WARNING: This Update Includes Oceans, Podcasts and Soviets

Got a few updates here, a few personal and one big recommendation.

First, old business:

I wrote a piece for Mission Blue about what world leaders accomplished at The Economist World Ocean Summit.  You might not’ve heard about that because, you know, celebrities are getting divorced and stuff, but last month several governments sent representatives to meet in a Davos-like conference on how to fix the enormous damage we’re doing to the ocean (aka the thing that keeps all of us alive).

I also published a Critical Intel on how Tom Clancy used tabletop wargames to research Red Storm Rising.  That’ll be interesting to you author-types or anyone who’s fascinated by the Cold War with Russia.

Heh, sorry, the last Cold War with Russia.

Now for new business:

If you’re someone who writes words in exchange for government currency – or want to be one – check out THE FREELANCE GAME, a new podcast about freelance game journalism.  Hosts Nathan Meunier and Andrew Hayward are both veterans of the ink-for-money trade and dispense advice in a tone I can only describe as “water cooler casual.” The show’s helpful without being dictatorial – it’s emphasized early that every freelancer follows their own path – and provides pleasant shop talk in a profession that can occasionally feel isolating.  Discussions tend toward the frank and humorous, without the bombastic personality jousts so common in gaming podcasts. I’ve listened to one episode so far but there are three out now (including one with IGN editor Mitch Dyer).  Check it out.


People of the Internet: I Have Returned

MacArthur

 

It’s 2014, and as promised, I’m back in business!

After a two-month sabbatical, Critical Intel returned last week with an article about how Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, evokes a time period through game mechanics.

And in case you missed it, I also penned a humor piece for Slate a few weeks ago called, “NORAD’s Fighter Escort for Santa: Another Example of Wasteful Government Spending.” I was particularly proud of this one, since I’ve always admired Slate‘s Future Tense blog.

In other news, I just returned from 17 days in Thailand and Cambodia, where I collected writing material between exploring temple ruins and dodging riot cops–so expect to see some Southeast Asia-flavored content here and in CI soon. (If you’re wondering, Southeast Asia-flavored means spicy.)

Thanks for hanging with me through the sabbatical, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the messages of support I received during the short hiatus. Here’s to a new year and new possibilities.

2014 is going to be a good one, I can feel it.


Critical Intel on Sabbatical

Just a short announcement today.

After talking it over with my colleagues and family, I’ve decided to take a sabbatical from Critical Intel for the remainder of the year.  Putting the column on hiatus was my call and I can’t say enough good things about my editors at The Escapist and the support they’ve given me both professionally and personally.  According to the current plan, the column will return in January.

I love Critical Intel, and feel it’s a needed and appreciated voice in game journalism.  That love kept the column going for the last six months even as I got married and moved to Hong Kong.  During that period, my wife and I bounced across the country for two months.  I wrote columns in the passenger seat of a moving car, filed articles over airport wifi, and kept hitting deadlines as we re-built our life here.  But at the end of September my grandmother passed away, followed by my father three days later.

While I’ve continued writing CI since then, I realized last week that – for the time being at least – I can’t give the column the attention it needs.  Writing CI requires extensive research, solid analytical thinking, and attention to detail, and unfortunately grief has a way of screwing with all those things.  Turning out columns on deadline wasn’t the problem, it was the frustrating amount of energy I had to expend to create publishable work.  Faced with an inevitable drop in quality, I decided to close CI up for the winter.

But don’t think that Critical Intel is going away – this is a cat nap, not a dirt nap.   This sabbatical gives me a good opportunity to work in a deadline-free environment, allowing me to develop a back-catalogue of columns so I’m not so pressed for time next year and can spend more energy developing ideas that need extra care.  In other words, even though you’re not reading CI, I’m still writing it.  The sabbatical also gives me a little breathing space to get some fiction off the ground and sell my historical crime novel Lost Guns.  (Strangely, while grief paralyzed my left-brain, my right-brain seems to be manning the pumps double time.)  The lights are all on here in the workshop, and I’m fiddling with some stuff I can’t wait to show you.

So really, Critical Intel isn’t on hiatus at all, it’s just re-arming and re-fitting.  Thank you for your continued support, and I look forward to seeing all of you in January.

 


One Year of Critical Intel

 

Order the cake and dust off your party hat, because it’s Critical Intel‘s first birthday!

Well okay, not exactly.  CritIntel’s first anniversary was actually back on October 12th, but it escaped my notice because of some stuff that’s gone down recently.  Regardless, I’m happy to see how my slick little newborn idea’s grown up over the last year.

I started Critical Intel to talk about how games and the real world are bleeding together, and I feel good about how much ground we’ve covered over the last year.  In one trip around the sun we’ve taken on the false realism of military FPS games, compared Dishonored to real-life 18th century dueling rituals and explored how Star Wars: The Old Republic became an unlikely battleground for LGBT rights.  We’ve explored politics, history and contemporary social issues without resorting to name-calling and hate mail – something people thought impossible when the column started.  The prestigious Games Journalism Prizes were even nice enough to longlist two columns for its annual prize.

You might notice that I’ve been saying “we” a lot.  Despite appearances, Critical Intel is very much a team effort.  A lot of people, from editors to artists, to the back-office folks who keep the lights on, have a hand in bringing CritIntel’s hot analytical goodness direct to your eyeballs every Thursday.  Those people have my deepest thanks, but so does everyone who’s ever passed me a news tip, shared the column or even made it a subject of your podcast or blog post.

Most of all, I’d like to thank you, the reader, for supporting the column.  There was never any guarantee that Critical Intel would find an audience or sustain itself for this long, and I appreciate you lending me your brain for ten minutes a week.

But don’t leave the theater yet –  it’s just intermission.  There’s some exciting stuff coming up, and you won’t want to miss it.

Because if you liked my last trick, I can’t wait to show you what I’ve got up my sleeve for next year.