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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!




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.

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.

Extra Credits: Returning to World War II

Hey! I helped out on an Extra Credits episode on how shooter games could re-approach World War II.

Working with the team was a blast, and I hope to do it again one day. And, oh man, is it cool to see myself as an EC bean person.

If I had to add anything to this, it would be that our WWII games draw so much inspiration from films, that perhaps devs could start by looking at WWII films that are different than the standard fare.

One great example in theaters this week is Assassination, an action film about the Japanese occupation of Korea. Perfect fit for an FPS? Probably not, but it’s not the worst place to start in seeking other cinematic visions of the war.

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.