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The most common question is some variation on “How did you get to this point?”
“Where do you come from?”
“What brought you out here?”
In my very specific, very strange case: “How did you become someone who writes about games?”
When I’m asked, I usually give the short version to save time and my sanity. The short version goes something like this: I got into podcasting, which led to meeting editors at some gaming sites, which led to freelance work, which led to a full-time job.
The long version is infinitely more complicated and contains a hundred people who I owe an infinite debt to, people who I’ll never be able to pay back for the incredible impact they had on my life. Aaron Hilden was one of those people.
When I was 20, I started a tiny gaming podcast called Evil Avatar Radio. I’m not sure how Hilden discovered my show – I guess he was probably just a reader of Evil Avatar, the forum community I was based out of, or maybe one of his listeners clued him into it – but he did and he saw something he liked in it and he got in touch with me.
Hilden had his own podcast, Drunken Gamers Radio, that he recorded alongside two equally smart and funny friends, Moe and John. It was a show that I fell in love with, something infectious in the way that only a great podcast can be. Like many gaming podcasts, it gave you an invite to eavesdrop on a weekly conversation between pals, but there was something more to DGR, something extra special.
Part of it came from the fact that Moe, John, and Hilden weren’t industry figureheads who eat, sleep and breathe games. Hell, in the eight years I’ve known him, I’m still not convinced that Moe has ever played a video game. DGR provided necessary perspective, games as viewed through the lens of people with full lives outside of that space, with difficult jobs, growing families, and limited time. They couldn’t play every single new release. They couldn’t devote 40 hours a week to poopsocking games on the hardest difficulty. Maybe that means they weren’t “experts” in the same way as podcasts helmed by full-time reviewers and writers, but fuck that metric. When Hilden gushed about a game, you knew he really cared. When he finished a game, you knew he loved it because he took the time to hit credits even in the midst of the many other pressing concerns of his busy life.
DGR also had one crazy huge advantage over most gaming podcasts: production values. Hilden knew how to do shit with audio. He knew how to make every voice sound incredible. I maintain that I have never sounded better than my handful of appearances on that podcast. And he brought a sense of showmanship that so few podcasts have. Whether it was subtle but lovely background music, a sudden burst into a bad and slightly offensive Ken Kutaragi impression, a song break, or fuck, even a full-on opera – Hilden (with help from John and Moe) turned out one of the most consistently inventive and interesting gaming podcasts on the internet, in between dick jokes and drunken friends screaming at each other.
So his podcast was great. But what really blew me away about Hilden was when he invited me onto that show, let me become an awkward fourth wheel (fifth, really, alongside my cohost), and was just so fucking welcoming. Keep in mind: You may know me as “that motherfucker from Polygon who scored that game I like too low” or “Reiner’s sidekick at Game Informer, you know, whatshisname” or if you’re real old-school “that dude who was at 1UP for a few months before everything fell apart.” But at the time that Hilden got in touch with me, I was no one – just a dumb, game-obsessed college kid who started a podcast because I had listened to 1UP Yours a few times and thought, “Pfft, I could do this.”
Hilden didn’t care. He wasn’t looking for some established media asshole to make himself feel more legitimate. He just liked what he had heard of me and wanted to be my friend. I had never felt so welcome, and his kindness helped me in immeasurable ways. It boosted my confidence; it made me think I might have some modicum of talent; it made me less scared to push for the career I wanted in life, even if it was some stupid one-in-a-million chance.
The best part, though, was that Hilden’s attitude toward me never changed. As I started freelancing, then got my first job in the industry, then went to work for the biggest gaming magazine on the planet, none of it mattered to Hilden. That is to say, he was always kind, proud, supportive, but more than anything he was always the same generous, inviting guy who just wanted me to come over, have a good time, and talk about games. He never acted like I was too good for him nor like he was put off by any of the success I’d found.
I had never felt so welcome.
Hilden passed away last week suddenly and unexpectedly. I’m still reeling from this news, from the always horrifying confrontation with mortality, from the gnawing knowledge that someone so joyful and essential to what I have become is now gone. I’m not going to pretend Hilden and I were best friends. We hung out probably a total of a dozen times, maybe less. But he always made me feel like we’d known each other for ages. I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult his loss must be to people who actually had known him for such a long time, like John and Moe.
Hilden was always incredibly forgiving and understanding of the numerous times that I was invited onto the podcast and couldn’t make it for whatever dumb reasons. I was bogged down with work. I was dealing with significant other drama. I just wanted to stay in this weekend. I was missing out on the limited chances I had to be in the presence of an amazing person. It was, always and forever will be, my loss.
I’ll never get the chance to explain to Hilden how important he was to me, and I don’t know if I ever could have fully explained it. I don’t know if it makes full sense in these words. But, Hilden, wherever you are, if you can read this:
You were, are, always will be an incredible person. I love you. Good night.
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We’ve all had problems with friends. We’ve all had people we care about choose to exit our lives. Or I assume we have. It’s a common thread, something most everyone has to deal with at some point in their lives. And I imagine most of us, at one point or another, are the friend, the cared-for person deciding to leave someone else’s life for any number of reasons, many totally valid.
Recently, I had a close friend betray my trust and abandon me. More recently, said friend decided to also take out their frustrations on my girlfriend, an unnecessary and cruel choice. Angry and shaken by this further act of thoughtlessness, I desperately wanted to write a letter to my friend explaining exactly how mean and wrong they were.
But then I remembered something my mother told me on the phone earlier today. She was discussing an issue related to my father, a man she divorced something like 20 years ago. She told me that it is not worth letting the people who want to poison your life do so. She said that she has decided to be happy, no matter what ill will they would wish on her.
Instead of writing that angry letter and saying things I would almost certainly regret later, I wanted to share a poem with you all. It’s a poem that makes me think about the people I miss. Enjoy.
I have come here from the guardrails.
They call me Sparky…
because I send sparks… off the guard… rai…
uhhm - rails. Listen, I’m not entirely comfortable being human.
They say laughter is the best medicine
so I wrapped my arms up in swing set chains
just to see if I still have funny bones
They are aching now
like a foot
lost to a trap.
I’ve paid for these legs with my mother.
As soon as my stalk was long enough, I ran.
And though it is good to be here with you tonight
I’m still running.
Take a left
at the saw mill of my vicious doubt
and meet me behind the orphanage of my voice box -
we are building you a poem.
It’s a boat shaped like a piano
and it’ll carry us away like a lullaby
on the sky’s slow river. Listen,
we all get to leave something behind,
like the guardrails
and the chains
and the traps
like the fact that my dad left my sister
two minutes after she was born
like I was born: guilty and kicking, and nervous
and some say our mothers were already gone -
but we are building them a poem
and it’s got room for all you people
so jump in, hold the edges,
this is a high-powered motherfucker
with duel fuel intake dulcimers
and a string quartet spoiler on the back.
I’m almost done.
Someone toss me the Holy knuckles
of a blue collar worker,
and that photo of a baby
upside down in the womb
I can slap to the front like a title page.
break into my prayer
because some of us -
some of us are on fire for the answer
still catching it
and releasing it
somewhere along the fault lines
lies the preposterous idea that we forgive ourselves
and this boat,
this is how I know we’re gonna make it
and when we do
because we will
tell me my brothers will forgive us for kicking to the surface of the sea
Tell me I can stop punishing my legs for being stalks
upon which to leave the wound that made me.
Tell me that from now on there will be doctors to hold every newborn
like it was their own broken wrist.
Tell me that when these swing set chains untie themselves from my arms
I won’t just point at my chest and say no one lives in here.
Tell me my heart beats a war drum
that my eyes are not just armies
but my spine
is a harpoon.
Tell me it’s a full moon at high noon
and I’m squaring up my driest devils
with the song of a monsoon.
Tell me I won’t lie the next time I see myself.
Tell me this isn’t the last time I see myself.
Tell me we’ll glance once out these side-view metaphors
before we lift off, cast up the funeral kites
for everyone we thought we lost
and want to get back again -
I will leave everything before I leave you.
So sister tell the choir to hurry up
with that voicebox and the orphanage
'cause where we're goin', people move so fast
they never leave each other behind
and everyone speaks like my arms want to speak to you,
like the highway speaks
…And I remember seein’ ‘em break and run off by themselves
and I remember they were full force in song
thrown’ their bodies around like wands
and I remember - clearly - they wanted out.
And I remember when the train came
they all hopped it
though they never claimed to ride that way
but it was midnight
and it was goin’ to Georgia
and it was free.
[from Live For A Living by Buddy Wakefield]
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"This way to the future; follow along"
-“Follow Me Snippet Verse” by Sage Francis
I’ve spent the last couple of months picking away at An Optimist’s Tour of the Future by Mark Stevenson. This enjoyably fluffy non-fiction book follows a writer/comedian who sets out to piece together what we can expect from the world in the next fifty years or so.
As the title suggests, Stevenson is blown away by the potential for incredible, positive change that he discovers. He talks to leading experts in virtually every scientific field about some of the most exciting, fastest growing areas — robot AI, space travel, planet-friendly alternative energy sources, genome sequencing, and plenty more. Whether you buy into his idealistic view or bring a healthy (and fair) dose of skepticism, Stevenson makes a compelling argument toward something I’ve always believed: There’s never been a more exciting time to be alive.
Despite my internal struggles with anxiety and depression, I’ve always considered myself an optimist in the long view. Human life, human society, and our world in general are all going through massive changes on a scope that is unmatched by any other point in history. But whatever fear and uncertainty there is, whatever growing pains we must conquer, I’ve always felt that these changes will, inevitably, put us in a better place as a species.
After all, nostalgia is sepia-toned bullshit that blinds us to the many awful things that existed in our past. Future-nostalgia can serve a similar purpose, putting people in a perpetual state of “everything will be fixed eventually!” without urging them to seek those solutions themselves. But it’s still better than only ever looking backward, longing for good old days that weren’t ever there. We have a lot of problems to deal with, but we’ve improved so much, moved past so much.
But then this happens.
And then this happens.
And then I face a frustrating fact: I’m about to bring a child into a world that stands on the brink of incredible, powerful scientific change and momentum…but is still struggling to treat anyone who is not white, male, and straight as a respectable human.
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"Did you go to college, Ben?"
"I tried. Liberal arts. But everybody seemed to be playing an intellectual game of capture-the-flag — you too can find an ax and grind it, thus becoming known and loved. Also, I flunked out."
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That does a pretty good job of summing it up. “Kindness” covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.
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You know about the Big Bang, right? They believe that the universe was born in a tremendous explosion twenty billion years ago. I can mathematically express the form of the universe, from its birth to the present. It’s all about differential equations. Most phenomena in the universe can be expressed with differential equations, you know. Using them, you can figure out what the universe looked like a hundred million years ago, ten billion years ago, even a second or a tenth of a second after that initial explosion. But. But. No matter how far we go back, no matter how we try to express it, we just can’t know what it looked like at zero, at the very moment of the explosion. And there’s another thing. How is our universe going to end? Is the universe expanding or contracting? See, we don’t know the beginning and we don’t know the end; all we can know about is the in-between stuff. And that, my friend, is what life is like.
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Here’s a story about me that you probably don’t know.
When I got the news: It was the summer before I turned 18, and I was in a trailer at the county fair. My on-again, off-again high school girlfriend did horse shows at the fair, but she had finished for the day. We were most assuredly on again at this point, even as she was preparing to head off to college in a couple months, leaving me alone in my despised hometown to finish my senior year of high school.
“Are you ready for this?” she asked me.
No, neither of us was. But sometimes life doesn’t particularly care if you’re ready.
My then-girlfriend took a test that confirmed what both of us already suspected: She was pregnant.
In the long, confusing, emotional discussions that followed over the course of the next week or two, we came to two major conclusions: first, that we were not prepared to raise a child; second, that even though both of us considered ourselves pro-choice, we weren’t comfortable having an abortion. It’s strange to think that I even had an opinion on that stuff so long ago; stranger still to realize it wasn’t that long ago at all.
As we talked things out with our parents, my girlfriend’s mom had a suggestion that had never even crossed my mind as a possibility: adoption. They knew friends of the family – a warm, wonderful couple that couldn’t conceive and had been working through the depressingly slow adoption process for years.
The strange thing about adoption is that everyone’s first response is “That must have been so difficult!” I’ve even had some friends go so far as to tell me how they’re proud of me for making that choice. Certainly it was something we spent a considerable amount of time thinking about and talking about…but I wouldn’t call it difficult.
My girlfriend and I knew that we weren’t ready to raise a child. We knew that we didn’t have the maturity, the stability, nor the intelligence to build a good home. And I’m sure somewhere deep inside we had an inkling that there was a good chance we wouldn’t end up staying together (as it is, we broke up amicably around a year-and-a-half later).
But we had an opportunity to give our child the life we knew he deserved. We had the chance to give him a caring, established family. And we could give a loving husband and wife the chance to raise a child that they had been seeking for years.
So…it wasn’t that difficult. It was pretty clearly the best choice for everyone involved.
His name is Matthew. I get pictures and a letter updating me once a year. He’s an adorable kid who has this strange, wonderful mix of traits from me – my love of superheroes, my dark hair – my ex-girlfriend – a fondness for horses – and his parents – a love of sports that certainly couldn’t have come from our genetic pool.
This lengthy story is really just preface to the heart of this post, the point of which is to say: I’ve answered “Are you ready for this?” before.
When I got the news: It was a dark winter night not too long ago right in this very apartment where I’m typing these very words. There’s this amazing girl, Jenessa. We met in college. We dated for a while a couple years ago, but it didn’t work out. More recently, we decided to try stuff again and…it’s kind of clicked into this perfect thing.
She had been feeling sick for a few weeks and finally went to the doctor. Returning from her appointment, she walked in the door and asked:
“Are you ready for this?”
I paused to consider.
I think I surprised myself as much as I surprised her with the answer: Yes.
Jenessa and I are having a boy. He will be born in August. And I’m happier and more excited – and yeah, okay, also more terrified – than I ever have been. But for the first time in my life, I’m totally ready.
My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to Defend Her Killer In Court
I’ve been sending out some impertinent tweets about Progressive Insurance lately, but I haven’t explained how they pissed me off. So I will do that here as succinctly as possible. There’s a general understanding that says, “insurance companies— oh they’re awful,” but since Progressive turned their shit hose on my late sister and my parents, I’ve learned some things that really surprised me.
I’ll try to cleave to the facts. On June 19, 2010, my sister was driving in Baltimore when her car was struck by another car and she was killed. The other driver had run a red light and hit my sister as she crossed the intersection on the green light.
People worried about our passing over into some robotic state, but we were so much like robots already, programmed and easy to manipulate. We had buttons, we had circuits, and it could all be mapped and explained, reprogrammed and calibrated. The utter mechanical simplicity of being able to move this oddity, the clitoris, up and down and around, to provoke the greatest pleasure, seemed laughably easy. And so we did it, because it created happiness of some kind. We push the buttons that provide the rewards. Again the greatest use of a human was to be useful. Not to consume, not to watch, but to do something for someone else that improved their life, even for a minute.
It’s important to know that with adults, though there is continual development, there is not always improvement. There is change, but not necessarily growth.
We’re not going to work together. No harm no foul. We can just walk away.
You know why we can do that now? Because of these. (Oswalt holds up an iPhone)
In my hand right now I’m holding more filmmaking technology than Orson Welles had when he filmed Citizen Kane.
I’m holding almost the same amount of cinematography, post-editing, sound editing, and broadcast capabilities as you have at your tv network.
In a couple of years it’s going to be fucking equal. I see what’s fucking coming. This isn’t a threat, this is an offer. We like to create. We’re the ones who love to make shit all the time. You’re the ones who like to discover it and patronize it support it and nurture it and broadcast it. Just get out of our way when we do it.
Alan had never checked or known his credit score but was told, by every bank and even a few venture capital firms, that his score made him untouchable. His score, 698, was 50 or so points below what would qualify him as trustworthy or even human.
Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.
The only story that seems worth writing is a cry, a shot, a scream. A story should break the reader’s heart.
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