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To design a game is to imagine the person who will eventually play it
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the people who give you charity are never your friends. It is not possible to receive charity from a friend.”
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This life is filled with inescapable moral compromises. We should do what we can to avoid the easy ones.”
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You would think women would want to stick together when there weren’t that many of them, but they never did. It was as if being a woman was a disease that you didn’t wish to catch. As long as you didn’t associate with the other women, you could imply to the majority, the men: I’m not like those other ones
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Sadie made a game about the poetry of Emily Dickinson. She titled it EmilyBlaster. Poetic fragments fell from the top of the screen and, using a quill that shot ink as it tracked along the bottom of the screen, the player had to shoot the fragments that added up to one of Emily Dickinson’s poems. And then once the player had successfully cleared the level by shooting several of Emily’s verses, you earned points to decorate a room in Emily’s Amherst house.
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Mistress, Sadie thought. Sadie laughed a bit to herself, thinking this was what it was like to play someone else’s game: to have the illusion of choice, without actual choice.
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Alice, like their grandmother, had a strong distaste for life’s inevitable gray areas.
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Sadie didn’t want Sam viewed through her sister’s acute and often unforgiving lens.
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Sam knew “cunt” to be a Rubicon. He had once overheard his mother’s boyfriend call her this word during an argument, and Anna had transformed from a woman into an obelisk. After that night, he had never seen this boyfriend again, and so he knew those four letters possessed profound, magical properties. “Cunt” could make a person disappear from your life forever,
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he also believed that she would have to do more if she were to make games that people loved, not just games that people admired.
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She could tell you exactly what was wrong with any game, but she didn’t necessarily know how to make a great game herself. There is a time for any fledgling artist where one’s taste exceeds one’s abilities. The only way to get through this period is to make things anyway
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So, I do want to be rich and famous. I am, as you know, a bottomless pit of ambition and need. But I also want to make something sweet. Something kids like us would have wanted to play to forget their troubles for a while.”
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The alternative to appropriation is a world where white European people make art about white European people, with only white European references in it. Swap African or Asian or Latin or whatever culture you want for European. A world where everyone is blind and deaf to any culture or experience that is not their own. I hate that world, don’t you? I’m terrified of that world, and I don’t want to live in that world, and as a mixed-race person, I literally don’t exist in it. My dad, who I barely knew, was Jewish. My mom was an American-born Korean. I was raised by Korean immigrant grandparents in Koreatown, Los Angeles. And as any mixed-race person will tell you—to be half of two things is to be whole of nothing. And, by the way, I don’t own or have a particularly rich understanding of the references of Jewishness or Koreanness because I happen to be those things. But if Ichigo had been fucking Korean, it wouldn’t be a problem for you, I guess?
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Sam’s grandfather had two core beliefs: (1) all things were knowable by anyone, and (2) anything was fixable if you took the time to figure out what was broken. Sam believed these things as well.
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Dov laughed. “I forget how young you are. You’re still at the age where you mistake your friends and your colleagues for family.”“Yes, Dov,” she said, trying to hide her irritation. “When you have children, you’ll never be able to worry about a friend as much again,” Dov said.
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She liked working. She liked that she was good at her work, and she felt proud of the fact that she was well paid for it. She felt pleasure in orderly things—a perfectly efficient section of code, a closet where every item was in its place. She liked solitude and the thoughts of her own interesting and creative mind.
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But the reason she was bourgeois was so she could make work that wasn’t bourgeois. If she were cautious in her life, she could avoid compromising in her work.
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deep breath. The space Marx had chosen was so immaculate. Sadie loved clean, bright things, and she felt hopeful. It was right that they should come to California. California was for beginnings.
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People who felt far less for each other said “love” all the time, and it didn’t mean a thing. And maybe that was the point. He more than loved Sadie Green. There needed to be another word for it.
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The first time Anna saw Chip Willingham, she thought that no one had ever looked more like a game-show host than this man. He was tanned and buttery, like a quality handbag; his hair had the color and rigidity of onyx; his teeth were enormous white rectangles. He gave the impression of being handsome without actually being handsome, and she could not begin to guess his age.
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Clownerina may have been kitsch, but Sadie adored him. He represented the spirit of California to her—and for the first time in her life, she fully embraced her native city. She donated her winter coats to Goodwill, and she started wearing floppy hats and maxi dresses. She went to flea markets with Zoe, and they shopped for vintage vinyl and long necklaces and artisanal pottery. She burned incense and gave up caffeine. She grew her hair long, down to her waist, and parted it in the middle. She started doing Pilates, and she threw Dov’s handcuffs into the sea. She dated—a scruffily handsome guy in an indie rock band, a scruffily handsome actor who was mainly known for indie films, a scruffily handsome tech guy who had sold his dot-com to a bigger dot-com. She threw elaborate dinner parties and prided herself on knowing the new bands before anyone else did. She bought a used VW bug the color of the California sky. She had brunch with her family every Sunday. She woke early, slept very little, and routinely worked eighteen-hour days. If California was a costume that could be worn, Sadie wore it as easily as Clownerina wore his tutu and derby hat
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Long relationships might be richer, but relatively brief, relatively uncomplicated encounters with interesting people could be lovely as well. Every person you knew, every person you loved even, did not have to consume you for the time to have been worthwhile.
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“You go back to work. You take advantage of the quiet time that a failure allows you. You remind yourself that no one is paying any attention to you and it’s a perfect time for you to sit down in front of your computer and make another game. You try again. You fail better.”
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How do you get into making video games anyway?” Sadie hated answering this question, especially after a person had told her that he hadn’t heard of Ichigo. “Well, I learned to program computers in middle school. I got an eight hundred on my math SAT, won a Westinghouse and a Leipzig. And then I went to MIT, which by the way is highly competitive, even for a lowly female like myself, and studied computer science. At MIT, I learned four or five more programming languages and studied psychology, with an emphasis on ludic techniques and persuasive designs, and English, including narrative structures, the classics, and the history of interactive storytelling. Got myself a great mentor. Regrettably made him my boyfriend. Suffice it to say, I was young. And then I dropped out of school for a time to make a game because my best frenemy wanted me to. That game became the game you never heard of, but yeah, it sold around two and a half million copies, just in the U.S., soooo…” Instead, she said, “I liked to play games a lot, so I thought I’d see if I could make them.”
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Sadie and Marx were in love. She had said that Sam didn’t know her, but he knew her well enough to know what her face looked like when she was in love. Her eyes were softer and her expression was less arch and self-conscious; her hand, entitled, as if she owned Marx’s cheek; her posture, slightly canted toward him, relaxed and pliable; her cheeks flushed. She was pretty all the time, but she was beautiful in love. He knew her well enough to know: it must have been going on for some time.
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“What’s everyone talking about?”“The end of The Iliad.”“That’s the best part,” Marx said. “Why is it the best part?” Sadie asked. “Because it’s perfect,” Marx said. “‘Tamer of horses’ is an honest profession. The lines mean that one doesn’t have to be a god or a king for your life to have meaning.”“Hector is us,” Sadie said. “Hector is us,” Marx repeated. “Hector is Marx,” Sam said. “Boring,” he coughed. “We should put ‘Tamer of Horses’ on Marx’s business cards.”
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It made her feel egomaniacal and ungenerous to think this way, but wasn’t there always some game Sam was playing? Wasn’t there always some maze for her to solve? He was an exhausting person
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“Sadie wants to make something dark and intellectual so that people will take her seriously. She’s trying to impress people like Dov. She’s trying to win back the people that wrote bad reviews of Both Sides. The best colors of Sadie are not her darkness
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Sam normally took comfort in numbers, but he was disturbed by how paltry this particular number was, considering the presence Marx had maintained in his life. He performed the calculation twice to confirm. Yes, it was 4,873. This was the kind of baby math Sam did when he couldn’t sleep. Four thousand eight hundred seventy-three, Sam thought, the dollars in a seventeen-year-old’s bank account when he’s flush, twice the number of passengers on the Titanic, the population of a town where everyone knows each other, the inflation-adjusted cost of a laptop in 1990, the weight of a teenage elephant, six months or so more than the number of days I knew my mother.
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Once, when he was fifteen—just old enough to acknowledge the inner lives of others beyond himself; not yet old enough to have a driver’s license
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They were in her car on the way back from a math competition in San Diego, and Sam was giddy with the feeling of being better than everyone else at something that he didn’t care about at all.
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A memory from Marx’s hospital room: Without preamble, Sadie is screaming at Sam, They wanted you. They wanted you. They wanted you. She beats his chest with her fists, and he doesn’t try to stop her. Harder, he thinks. Please. The next day, or the next week, or the next month, she apologizes, but the apology lacks the conviction of the attack.
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Start with an anecdote. A funny story about me. Thank them for coming back and mean it. That’s all you have to do. You make everything harder than it needs to be. You always have.
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“Why don’t you tell me how you see it?”
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“Do you mind spoilers?”“No.” Sam didn’t believe it was possible to spoil a game. The point was not what happened, but the process of getting to what happened
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“What is a game?” Marx said. “It’s tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. It’s the possibility of infinite rebirth, infinite redemption. The idea that if you keep playing, you could win. No loss is permanent, because nothing is permanent, ever.”
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she did not possess the missionary zeal for converting nonreaders into readers—
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“A programmer is a diviner of possible outcomes, and a seer of unseen worlds.”
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well, if that’s your concern, I wouldn’t worry about it. The most important thing is finding someone you wish to play with. And in any case, marriage is a more practical affair here. You join property, and if it doesn’t work out, you separate property. I have done it—”“Twelve times, I know.”“And I am no worse for the wear.”“This seems an about-face from what you told me several months ago. You went on and on about how wearying it was to join and separate property.”“There is a pleasure to the joining of property as well, otherwise why would we all keep doing it? ‘Pleasure’ might be too strong a word. If not a pleasure, let us say an interest. It develops the plot.”
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“And what is love, in the end?” Alabaster said. “Except the irrational desire to put evolutionary competitiveness aside in order to ease someone else’s journey through life?”
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“To make a game is to imagine the person playing it.”
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“There must be more to life than working and swimming and playing Go.”“The boredom you speak of,” Alabaster said. “It is what most of us call happiness.”“I suppose.” Alabaster sighed. “This is the game, Emily.”“What game?” Alabaster rolled their lilac eyes. “You are happy, and you are bored. You need to find a new pastime.”
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the middle-aged—”“Those cursed souls worn down by the inevitable compromises of life, you mean?”
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“When I first signed up for your class, I wondered what made you want to teach.”“Because teaching’s fucking great.”“It is?”“Sure. Who doesn’t love puppies? And every once in a very long while, a Sadie Green comes along to blow your fucking mind.”
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If you’re always aiming for perfection, you won’t make anything at all.
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That night, Sadie tried to remember herself back in 1996. There were three things that had driven her, and none of them reflected a particular generosity of spirit on Sadie’s part: (1) wanting to distinguish herself enough professionally so that everyone at MIT would know that Sadie Green had not been admitted to the college on a girl curve, (2) wanting Dov to know that he shouldn’t have dumped her, and (3) wanting Sam to know that he was lucky to be working with her, that she was the great programmer in their team, that she was the one with the big ideas. But how to explain this to Destiny? How to explain to Destiny that the thing that made her work leap forward in 1996 was that she had been a dervish of selfishness, resentment, and insecurity? Sadie had willed herself to be great: art doesn’t typically get made by happy people.
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She had once read in a book about consciousness that over the years, the human brain makes an AI version of your loved ones. The brain collects data, and within your brain, you host a virtual version of that person. Upon the person’s death, your brain still believes the virtual person exists, because, in a sense, the person still does. After a while, though, the memory fades, and each year, you are left with an increasingly diminished version of the AI you had made when the person was alive. She could feel herself forgetting all the details of Marx—the sound of his voice, the feeling of his fingers and the way they gestured, his precise temperature, his scent on clothing, the way he looked walking away, or running up a flight of stairs. Eventually, Sadie imagined that Marx would be reduced to a single image: just a man standing under a distant torii gate, holding his hat in his hands, waiting for her.
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A good game designer knows that clinging to a few early ideas about a project can cut off the potential for the work. Sadie did not feel that Naomi was altogether a person yet, which was another thing that one could not admit. So many of the mothers she knew said that their children were exactly themselves from the moment they appeared in the world. But Sadie disagreed. What person was a person without language? Tastes? Preferences? Experiences? And on the other side of childhood, what grown-up wanted to believe that they had emerged from their parents fully formed? Sadie knew that she herself had not become a person until recently. It was unreasonable to expect a child to emerge whole cloth. Naomi was a pencil sketch of a person who, at some point, would be a fully 3D character.
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The fact that Dong Hyun had not died a video game death meant that Sam had been able to spend time with him before the end. The length of time it had taken Dong Hyun to die also meant he had said everything he wanted to say to Sam, his cousins, and his grandmother. Was this trade worth his suffering? Sam didn’t know.
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“You know what I keep thinking? I keep thinking how easy it was to make that first Ichigo. We were like machines then—this, this, this, this. It’s so easy to make a hit when you’re young and you don’t know anything.”“I think that, too,” Sadie said. “The knowledge and experience we have—it isn’t necessarily that helpful, in a way.”
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“It’s so funny you should say this, because if you were one of my students, you’d be wearing your pain like a badge of honor. This generation doesn’t hide anything from anyone. My class talks a lot about their traumas. And how their traumas inform their games. They, honest to God, think their traumas are the most interesting thing about them. I sound like I’m making fun, and I am a little, but I don’t mean to be. They’re so different from us, really. Their standards are higher; they call bullshit on so much of the sexism and racism that I, at least, just lived with. But that’s also made them kind of, well, humorless.
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“If their traumas are the most interesting things about them, how do they get over any of it?” Sam asked. “I don’t think they do. Or maybe they don’t have to, I don’t know.”
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Since she’d started teaching and become a mother, she’d felt old, but that night, she realized she wasn’t old at all. You couldn’t be old and still be wrong about as many things as she’d been wrong about, and it was a kind of immaturity to call yourself old before you were.
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Candidate for favorite observation