Switch (The Difference)

I have a  new short story out now, in the  collection Switch (the Difference). It’s inspired by the myth of Hera and Semele, but, you know, set in Los Angeles, because if Zeus were around, he would definitely be chasing starlets, and Hera would be sending them to directly to reality show hell. It’s also about the obvious and the overlooked, and about expectations for women, because a myth’s never really just about personalities.

This will be my third story influenced by classical mythology, I also wrote about an aging muse, and a dissatisfied Venus, for other anthologies.

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Studio Selfie


at work

Wearing a slightly different grey sweater counts as dressing better for work, right?

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Favorite Person, Favorite Media

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The Screaming Narwhal

Telltale Games’s Tales of Monkey Island, not to be confused with the LucasArts updated re-release of the original stories, is an entirely separate adventure in the ongoing saga of Guybrush Threepwood, mighty pirate. The first episode, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal: Chapter 1, brings Guybrush, Elaine Marley, and LeChuck (and at least one other familiar character!) back for new stories, revamped from their grainy 2d incarnations, but following the spirit of the originals.

Goofy dialogue, creative uses for found items and pirate-y silliness are the hallmarks of the Monkey Island games, and the Screaming Narwhal has them all. Guybrush uses his razor-sharp wits to deal with the wacky denizens of Flotsam Island, whether that’s a clever ruse about selling fine leather jackets, an amazing use of misdirection (Look! It’s Louis XIV!) or coming up with a believable excuse on the spot. The dialogue is not a memory test of in-game facts, but a chance for zany interactions.

The freedom of the old Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge options was in stark contrast to the thousand ways to accidentally off the protagonist in the punishing other adventure games I played around the same time. (Crossing the road as Laura Bow and immediately getting killed by a passing car still sticks in my memory as the finest example of pointless player death.) Guybrush can stick a bomb in his pocket or attempt all sorts of athletic feats without any ill effects.

The Monkey Island games make you wonder What would happen if I…? and then encourage you to try it out, a gameplay style I really love. When you try to pair two objects that don’t belong,  use something in the wrong way, or say something ridiculous, Guybrush makes a joke instead of a beep, an error message, or a score punishment. Creativity is rewarded by offering zany responses to zany questions and zany actions. The object was not to beat the level, the boss, or the game, but just to see what would happen next. That’s exactly what I love in games.

The Screaming Narwhal contains the old Monkey Island mechanic of an old pirate map for Guybrush to decipher. I don’t want to give away too much, but this isn’t the usual hidden object standard, there isn’t any squinting at the screen to find map pieces. If you’d like to make the puzzles easier or harder, the hint frequency is on a slider in your options menu, so you can adjust how helpful Guybrush is to you.

When I think about it, the only thing that could possibly be improved is the inventory. Oh, no, not the actual inventory, the U-tube and manatee monocle and breathmints leave no room for improvement. But the way to access the inventory is to mouse over the right hand edge of the screen. This is also the way to walk off the right hand edge of the screen or look at things on the far right of the screen. It is not a game-breaking mechanical failure, but a minor annoyance that came back every time I mean to look at something on the right and opened my inventory.

Originally written for Thumb Gods. 

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Sushi With Harold

sushi

When Harold and I go out for sushi, we spend a long time debating different rolls. Should we get a Volcano Roll or a Tokyo Roll? Should we get the special with yellowtail, and then get a plain smoked salmon roll, or should we get the Alaska Roll with salmon, and then get an eel and cucumber roll? There is a lot of debate involved in getting the correct combination of flavors and textures,  the right ratio of fancy rolls and plain pieces before we order.

Then we start talking about other things, and by the time the food comes, we have practically forgotten what we ordered and ask each other, is this one going to be spicy? What else is in this tuna roll? This one’s really nice, what’s it called?

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Ze, zir, zim: An Extended Metaphor

Transgender and genderfluid identities are quite outside my experience, actually, so are most queer identities, since my own questioning phase was more about where can I find handsome boys, which boy should I date, and why can’t I date all of them. Er, moving on. But it’s come to my attention more and more, and a couple people in my life have changed the pronouns they’re comfortable with. I kind of imagine that as awkwardly telling everyone in your life that they’ve been pronouncing your name wrong every single time since forever.

When I lived in Brooklyn, every time I filled in a form with my address, I would get this thrill, that the upstairs apartment, under a skylight, in a Brooklyn brownstone was the truest and best address I could have, for the truest and best life I could have, and I was really happy about it. Whenever I write down Bramford, Chapel Hill as my address, I have to remind myself that it’s only temporary. This stupid not-really-me address isn’t that important, right? And even so, I kind of want to tell everyone that I’m not from here, I barely live here, this is not the true me. (Oddly, the lady at the DMV did not want to hear this.)

That’s kind of how I imagine gender pronouns would be, only times 10,000. Like if every time someone spoke to me, they could either say awesome Brooklyn adventure or they could say sad small Chapel Hill with the stupid driving everywhere. Obviously I would want everyone to say Hello, person who is successful in the expensive, high speed and high talent city! and not Hello, person who inexplicably cares whether red beats light blue in college sportsball. So, when presented with a pronoun that would make a friend or acquaintance happy, of course I will use it. Why wouldn’t you use it? I imagine it would be very difficult to make your way through a world where everyone treated you as one type of person when you are completely not that person.

So when someone I know goes through a transition, or, I guess when someone has been going through a transitional period for a while and just decides to tell me about it, I think how great it is that they’ve figured out they are really Brooklynites and now they don’t have to stumble around North Carolina anymore wondering why everything is so terrible and depressing and awful! Brooklynites don’t have to try to act like they care about the sportsball, or the weather, or what used to be where those expensive lofts are now. They’re not expected to know the back way to whenever they’re going. Not pretending like you care is such a big relief, isn’t it? Good for you, looking out at all the state highways and figuring out you’re really a G train commuter! That can’t be easy.

There’s also this thing where anti-social justice types (I discovered that a social justice blogger is a thing you can call someone, which is weird because I mostly talk about games I’m playing or take photos of my makeup, but whatever, I guess I’d rather be in favor of social justice than against it) will mock others with a fake social bio, saying something like “I’m a genderqueer panromatic demisexual, who prefers ey/em pronouns” and I think the goal is to highlight how far these identities are from the expected norm. I’m not entirely sure. Anyway, it always makes me think Good for you! Glad you figured that out! You don’t have to fake it anymore! And of course I want that feeling to mean that I’m open-minded and accepting, but it might also mean that if you hate faking an interest in local smalltalk, then we should be friends.

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Gregory Sherl’s ‘The Future for Curious People’

The Future For Curious People shines a spotlight on the worst kind of breakup. While it’s easy to break up with a horrible partner, cutting ties with a perfectly nice but not-quite-right partner is much worse.

The Future For Curious People imagines a world where people can visit envisionists to get a peek at their romantic futures. As readers, we’ve almost been to our own envisionist. It’s clear from the very beginning that Evelyn and Adrien, Godfrey and Madge are going to swap partners. There’s no doubt that Evelyn and Godfrey will fall madly in love and ride off into the sunset together, with a gentle veil over Godfrey awkwardly moving his things out of Madge’s apartment. (Hey, we don’t need an envisionist to know she’s going to keep the apartment. Poor Godfrey was lucky to get the ring back.), but The Future For Curious People takes us on a ride through romance, relationships, and insecurity first.

The Future For Curious People shines a spotlight on the worst kind of breakup. While it’s easy to break up with a horrible partner, cutting ties with a perfectly nice but not-quite-right partner is much harder, and even more tragic in a way. Each person looks at their relationship and wonders, is this the best I can do? Maybe if I try harder, we’ll be kinda okay. I’m not happy with this person, but I’m not really unhappy either.

But these characters can briefly look into the future, rather than stewing endlessly about feeling not-unhappy, and they can glimpse how their lives would turn out with different partners. Bart and Amy, Godfrey’s smug-coupled friends, see their future selves happily sailing on a boat, and are reassured that they’ve made their right choice. But in most cases, the future scenes portray more of the not-unhappy feelings in the present-day relationship. Bickering about nothing, or living separately under the same roof, with realistic hopelessness.

Godfrey wishes he and Madge could have married almost immediately after meeting, creating a wave of relationship optimism. Their relationship counselor, Dr. A . Plotnik, tells them to recount all the positive moments after they met to create a happy relationship mythology. Godfrey also tries to force a meet-cute with Evelyn and a pear-shaped brooch, only to have it unfold in an entirely different way.

There are dozens of partners who would make us happy-enough, the narrative tells us, but we find our true love in constantly re-choosing them as our love. The Future For Curious People takes a wander through could-have-beens and depressing relationships and ends with a hopeful insistence that love is real. Although, in cases of true love, there may be some equipment malfunctions.

Originally written for Yahoo, May 2014

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My New Year’s Resolution Is More Glitter


My New Year's resolution was to spend less time on flaw-hiding (boring) makeup and more time on face-decorating makeup! #blog #makeup #bbloggers #cosmetics | January 07, 2015 at 08:12PM

My New Year’s resolution was to spend less time on flaw-hiding (boring) makeup and more time on face-decorating makeup!instagram

Instagramvia Instagram.

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Quing’s Quest VII

quing's quest vii

I checked out Quing’s Quest VII the other day, originally for work, but I quickly realized it was too full of mature themes and games industry snark to be good for the kids. The entire game is a parody, in which my genderqueer sidekick, Guybrush, and I were flying our spaceship, the Social Justice Warrior, away from our home planet, Videogames. Then the evil Gamer Police caught my ship, and arrested us for a list of crimes, including snogging the wrong people, wearing the wrong clothes, taking too many selfies and resisting arrest. It’s a Twine game, too, which just adds to the entire joke, because experimental Twine projects seem to bring out the fastest switch from “Make your own games then!” to “That doesn’t count as a game!”

Hilarity ensues, with glitter, dancing and delightful flavortext. Quing’s Quest VII takes just a few minutes to play and is a ridiculously good moodbooster.

The game is full of glaringly obvious references to GamerGate disasters, particularly your friend Frankie who is too exhausted from working crunch hours to really help you, and besides, if you submit quietly to the misogynerds, plead guilty and promise never to act up again, you could probably go home and get another industry job. But Quing’s Quest VII is also full of fun references to classic games, and I couldn’t help giggling when I was offered a choice between using the Konami code, escaping from Monkey Island or doing the hokey-pokey to evade my captors. All the injokes are a nice reminder of all the silliness and good times in gaming, and the dancing and ridiculous choices made it a really cheerful playthrough.

Even though at the end of the game, I hovered over the Save Videogames button but didn’t want to feel sad after my glitter-awesome adventure, and ultimately choose the Get The Hell Away From Games conclusion. There’s a lot of galaxy for adventure-seeking space pirates!

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Visiting My Family

“Meg, I heard you have a new story coming out, what’s it about?”

“Um…. It’s about an average-looking and moderately talented writer in her mid-thirties, who keeps getting overlooked, until she ignores all morals to completely destroy her rival. Uh.”

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But First…

The entire post on barriers to diverse recruitment (over on Go Make Me A Sandwich) is quite good. It’s a thoughtful look at the overt and subtle ways that tech and gaming companies fail to encourage diverse hires, and also what a completely crock it is to throw up our collective hands, and say, well, we haven’t hired any women for this project, must be because no women wanted to work here.

I’ve written about the expectation of free labour, particularly proving one’s worth as an unpaid intern for a publication in hopes of landing a job afterwards, and how that influences the hiring pool by eliminating everyone without the personal resources required to intern. This post really points out how hiring practices designed to weed out inexperienced and frivolous applicants can also affect diverse hires.

(And, yeah, we all have other responsibilities, but if a task that is substantially easier for one subset is part of the application process, we can’t then be surprised when the majority of the applicants are part of that subset.)

Ability to do free labor

If you require applicants to complete a particular writing prompt, or to read a particular game or other written work, or to perform any other activity that represents a non-trivial time investment, you are restricting your pool of applicants to people who can afford to perform free labor in pursuit of a POTENTIAL position that – quite honestly – pays like shit and most likely won’t be paid at all promptly, if at all. (Pay-on-publication is still a quite common model for paying freelancers, which is something I intend to write about later, as it is complete and utter bullshit.)

And – again – the wage gap and 2nd shift labor are going to be factors that skew your applicant pool (again) toward white, male, and cisgender.

via Barriers to diverse recruitment [LONG] | Go Make Me a Sandwich.

I don’t mind payment-on-publication, personally. Receiving my check with my contributor’s copy is no problem for me, and it beats pay-after-angry-letters-to-the-publisher or payment in exposure, but the gap between completing the work and receiving payment can be another hurdle.

Anyway, the whole post’s really good, and includes some practical suggestions for more diverse hiring practices.

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Travel Essentials

cookie hotel

Bumped off my flight home (intentional) and separated from my luggage (…not so much). Fortunately, I have all the books on my iPad and my mom’s Christmas cookies with me in my carryon.

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Hello Kitty Menorah

ms marvel

My work Secret Santa got me Ms. Marvel comics!  (This is totally unrelated to the TMNT paper my other coworkers wrapped my desk in…)

I’ve been aiming to take more pictures and post a photo every Wednesday,  but I guess it won’t break my streak if I post a second one today. Secret Santa also made the most adorable card with a Hello Kitty Menorah on it. Hello Kitty really does go on everything!

hello kitty menorah

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In Praise of Acceptable

I did some perfectly acceptable work recently, and I’m pretty thrilled about it.

It’s not so difficult to write something great when I have a great topic, and time and space for creativity, and I’m feeling inspired. But turning out consistant work? On deadline? Even when I’m not feeling it? For me, it’s generally a lot harder to do creative work that’s consistently acceptable, all the time, than to do an amazing project when inspiration strikes me.

For my work at YD, I create regular game reviews and tech analysis for the students, and that means pulling topics from a content pool of free, G-rated computer games and G-rated tech news, and developing interesting age-appropriate stories at the required wordcount. Sometimes this just flows, there’ve been a couple times I literally couldn’t wait to get into the studio and turn an idea in my mind into a great piece to share with the students.

Other times, it’s me being three-quarters through a project and discovering there’s a way to see blood in this game, or there’s a swear on this company’s site and sighing, and starting over. Sometimes it’s cutting out massive sections of really good work to get down to wordcount, sometimes it’s realizing there’s no way to cut this down to required length. Some days, it’s producing creatively and consistently when I’m just not feeling inspired and creative. And that’s much more difficult for me than the occasional brilliant essay.

Anyway, I’ve recently written and produced a few perfectly fine creative pieces, on deadline, hitting our style, length, and format requirements consistently. And I’m really pleased about that.

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IndieCade East, 2015

Quick post on next year’s IndieCade, over at Gosu Tech:

indiecadeIndieCade East, the annual festival and exhibition of independent video games, will return to New York’s Museum of the Moving Image this February.

IndieCade began as an indie games festival in Culver City, California, with a focus on experimental and message games, as well as indie game post-mortems, collaborative game dev challenges, indie game awards, and game development skill shares. With the growing popularity of indie games, a second annual event, IndieCade East, was launched three years ago in New York City. IndieCade East takes place in the Museum of the Moving Image, in Astoria, and takes full advantage of the MOMI’s space and interactive exhibits to showcase noteworthy and unusual independent games.

via IndieCade Returns to MOMI – Gosu Tech

This is the not the first time I’ve written about IndieCade…

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