Mandarin in Five Scenes

#1 I’m in Yantai, Shandong province, 2006. I’m just beginning to recognize Mandarin characters, mostly from a baby book I buy myself when it turns out that my school’s promised “English lessons” are curriculum-free hours with a teacher who’s too embarrassed to correct me. I recognise both 大, big and then 林, forest, and I’m delighted to find two readable words in a sentence, but my friend Lily is not too embarrassed to tell me I’m wrong, and that 大林 actually means Stalin. I’m pretty sure that Mandarin is a massive conspiracy to screw with me.

#2 I’m at teaching ESL in Boston, 2016. My students are playing Celebrity Password, and one of them gives another student Stalin as their clue. There is a short argument over whether this person is famous enough to be a good clue, with some students insisting that everyone knows this person, and some insisting they’ve never heard of him. I settle this by writing  大林, the Chinese characters for Stalin, on the board next to the English. Because of course that’s something I know in Mandarin.

#3 The Chinese word for alien is 外星人, Other Star Person. I find it in a Chinese reading, and it sticks in my mind because it’s adorable and also it’s enough like foreigner, 外国人, Other Country Person that for a moment, Mandarin seems logical and cute.

#4 In another class this summer, one of my students plays alien abduction in Apple to Apples, and I can explain it in Chinese, because of course that’s something I know.

#5 After this, my students refuse to believe that the vocabulary for soviet heads of state and for extraterrestrials are just random flukes, and that actually I struggle to more more than the most rudimentary conversations. They insist that I speak fluent Chinese, and nothing I can say, no matter how bad my tones are or how halting my responses, can convince them otherwise.

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Invisible Monsters

eevee's ready to fightI’ve been having so much fun playing Pokemon Go on campus. I don’t even care that much about the Pokemon franchise, and there’s not a whole lot of gameplay, but being part of such a large-scale augmented reality is amazing. Pokemon Go is pretty much a location checkin game, with a bit of threeway capture-the-flag thrown in, but man, I love having a cute invisible world all around me,  and I love seeing others checking out of the real world and checking into our shared Pokemon fantasy.

The other day, I followed a lure to Pokestop by the campus bookstore, and joined a bunch of teenagers at sportsball camp (lacrosse? I think?), a family on a pre-college visit, one of the groundskeepers, and some other virtual Pokemon hunters sitting on the grass catching invisible monsters.

I’ve also been trying to dress like an adult for classes, which means that my students are constantly shocked to see me chasing Pokemon or to hear that I play. Today I was in my cardigan and skirt in the hallway, listening to students talking about challenging the Pokemon in the nearest invisible gym. They knew I was there, but they didn’t know it was my Eevee they were discussing.

This is the cyberpunk future I’ve dreamed about.

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Oh, My Sweet Summer Children


Catching a few Pokemon before bed.

Students: Can we have class outside?

Me: No, we can’t run around campus catching Pokemon during class.

Students: How did you know about that?!?!?!?

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I just went to the liquor store to bring a bottle of prosecco to Tiffany and Diego’s place tomorrow. This is exciting to me, because I think it’s nice to bring a bottle of wine when I got to see friends, but that means that I always stop on the way there. See also: Every birthday card or wedding card that I’ve ever signed was purchased on the way there.

Not only was I shopping in advance, but I even brought a canvas bag for carrying the prosecco home. The city of Cambridge now charges extra for plastic bags, which is a pretty good motivator for to bring my SXSW bag when I’m going shopping, but actually I only remember it about half the time. (I’m pretty sure an NPR or a public library tote stored permanently in my purse is the next logical step)

Anyway, I was pretty proud of myself and this newfound advance planning thing.

And then I got carded.

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Jane Austen Fanfiction

Not on the Common. Still Janeite.

I was reading on the Common after class the other day when — ugh, this is one of the times when truth is misleading. This sounds like I left a well-executed English lesson, scooped up my papers, and walked across the street to the park to sit in the sunshine and read literature, doesn’t it? Picture me with my pencil skirt and wedge heels, partly because that’s what I actually wear to class, and partly because that’s what an English teacher reading the part ought to wear, right?

Actually, I’ve been subbing, so my students ask me perfectly natural questions about their schedule changes or the absence policy or other things no one’s explained to me, and I have to admit that I can’t possibly help them. I mean, I’ve barely found the copier and spare pens. A lot of my class time is spent realizing that my 20-minute activity is going to take 40 minutes at least, or vice versa.

So when I say I’ve been reading on the Common, what I actually mean is that I leave class,  toss myself onto an empty patch of grass, and enjoy the delightful silence and solitude. And then I start reading about the further adventures of Mr. Darcy, which is what I meant to tell you about in the first sentence.

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Me, as a first-year teacher: Teaching is a noble calling, and I will change lives in the classroom. I will share my love of language and literature, and I’ll encourage my students to be their best. Decades later, my students will look back on their year with me as a positive and formative experience, and they’ll remember my class fondly.

Me, today: This summer teaching job is great! This school provides enough whiteboard markers and binder clips! I can make enough photocopies for class! Teachers are treated so well here!

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“Scoutible” on (The) Absolute

Of all the demos at this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt, Scoutible’s mobile game for replacing the job interview grabbed my attention. Some of the surrounding demos seemed like awesome tech solutions in search of a problem to solve, but, come on, what doesn’t suck about job interviews? Who wouldn’t rather play a game?

I love applied games and I’m also a sucker for personality analysis, so I was excited to try the free game. In Scoutible, players have mysteriously landed on a desert island, which is probably my favorite type of game…. Monkey Island, Sims: Castaway, MyTribe, Stranded Without A Phone, even Next Island (I’ve spent a fairly significant chunk of time pretending to be stuck on a deserted island). I had really high hopes for Scoutible, I was already imagining a Ready Player One future, where we’d all unlock insights into our personalities and career skills through playing a survival game.

When I was interacting with Scoutible’s few NPCs, I was given the sort of black-and-white options we always try to avoid in game development. One NPC failed to do what the boss NPC asked him for — do you scold him, or do the task yourself? Then do you complain about his laziness or make excuses for him? I was disappointed by the lack of nuance in any interpersonal interactions. These felt like generic job interview questions with a thin veneer of gameplay over it.

Also, I didn’t realize it until I was sourcing images for this article, but the contrast between the polished website images and the screenshots from the beta couldn’t possible be stronger, could it?

Source: “Scoutible,” a Game That Hopes To Replace Job Interviews (Sort Of) | (The) Absolute

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Twitter Eggs & Moving On

I wanted to write about how I’m done with game reviewing, and I’m really sick of being caught between obviously you can’t expect to make money at it and obviously if you write about games (while being a woman), people are going to seek you out to tell you how much they hate you. It’s not a professional role when you’re looking to be paid more than a 99-cent download code, but it’s totally professional writing as far as expecting and receiving a certain amount of internet hate.

I wrote a review of Depression Quest more than a year before GamerGame. I wrote this review for an outlet where I no longer write, a magazine that has changed hands at least 3 times since then. I think I got $5 for this post. It’s been several years since the post went up, and neither I nor the editor who approved the piece work at this outlet anymore, but every so often Twitter Eggs and other anons will find it, and send me messages about being a paid shill working to ruin games. So there’s that.

I’m also accumulating a depressingly large dead file of reviews I’ve written for outlets that have since gone under, which is not a great feeling.  It’s turning my blog into a graveyard of cool things I wrote for publications that no longer exist (or are no longer paying writers, or have switched to listicles, or whatever). And I keep wondering if it’s time to move on from games reviewing, but then I get excited about a new game, and I think I’ll write this one more, and then it’ll be time to find something new.

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Capt. Action Plan

I’m currently sorting out grad school options for fall. I sent my applications off last month, but I didn’t write about it because, first, if I didn’t get in anywhere, I didn’t want anyone to ask me how it was going. Also because after polishing writing samples and sending requests for sealed transcripts and requests for references and filling in FAFSA forms, I was so bloody sick of the whole thing that grad schools are the last thing I wanted to talk about.

I even did an application for a backup school in case I don’t get into either of my dream programs, or if I get in but don’t get enough funding to attend. It’s hard to accept that even after all the work I have done to prepare, and even though I think I’m the perfect applicant, I might not get in. Or I might not be able to start immediately, I might have to postpone school for a semester of working and saving more. It’s hard to establish a backup plan without getting depressed, or getting overwhelmed with the time and money I already sunk into this, or looking at the sheer amount of paperwork for one application, let alone three, or giving up on a masters completely and going to do something entirely different, or just hoping for the best and take no practical steps in case of a setback.

I might sometimes make fun of Capt. Action Plan, my process-oriented husband, when he exhibits some of his many Vulcan characteristics. Some of the finer points of project management make me fall asleep, but I would seriously never have attempted something with so much preparation and planning, and so many freaking steps before I met Harold.

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Star Trek: Timelines

Every ten levels, the Timelines crew members will need four items to “advance” and permit experience to be gained from missions. Each item is related to the character (as Janeway wants coffee, or Picard has a saddle), but the drop rate here is either insanely low (we’re talking about 20+ replays of the same battle, looking for one piece of a multi-item crafting recipe) or it might be bugged. The game is fairly new, with occasional downtime while the staff finds and fixes the bugs. I thought this incredibly low drop rate must be the IAP squeeze, but since I could find no way to purchase the needed items (even for premium currency) there’s just an oddly grinding aspect of this otherwise successful strategy game.

I wasn’t quite able to squeeze everything into this review, and ended up writing my own reactions over here, too. Good thing I have my own blog, because sometimes I can’t fit all my Star Trek squeeing into the outlet’s word count.

Via Star Trek: Timelines

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