Girl Talk

(Since 1UP appears to be down for many of you, I've cross-posted this here!)

Today ends my career at Ziff Davis Media, where I spent six of the richest years of my life as managing editor for EGM and then the 1UP Network. I'm leaving game journalism and heading over to the production side, where I'll be working at Sega as Associate Creative Director for Family/Casual games. This is a big deal for me. I started at Ziff in 2002 when EGM closed its Illinois office and moved to San Francisco with half a staff. Its managing editor at the time, Dean Hager, decided not to make the big move. I happened to need a job, having been at Next Generation magazine when it closed in December 2001, and I jumped at the opportunity to join EGM.

Six years later, I'm pretty shellshocked it's all over. The end hasn't been sudden -- obviously, my old print team has mostly dispersed, EGM has a bold new look and direction, and I've been working online at 1UP for almost a year. But having spent the better part of a week going through old work files and emails trying to decide what to save and what to toss, I've come to the bittersweet realization that I'm saying goodbye not just to a job, but to an era.

For one thing, being a girl writing about games is no longer as big a deal as it was the first several years I was in the business. Back in 2000, there were very few women editors, and those who were in the biz didn't generally attend demos, meetings, and events. There was an easy explanation for this: women tended to occupy roles like managing editor, copy editor, art director, etc. -- jobs that didn't require knowledge of games. I remember really looking up to Francesca Reyes (then with Official Dreamcast Magazine, now Editor in Chief of Official Xbox Magazine) back then. Fran was a truly rare bird -- she had her own expertise and wrote about the same games the guys did. But aside from Fran and perhaps a handful of others, it just wasn't safe to assume the girls at the mags were gamers. Often, quite the opposite assumption was made: I remember showing up at events and having PR people think I was some girlfriend on the arm of the nearest male editor. Once, one even denied me a press kit: "Editors only!" she chirped annoyingly. Clearly she meant "Boys only," and I've never forgotten the sting of her mischaracterization.

I knew I'd arrived somewhere unusual when, on my second day at EGM, fellow editors Greg Sewart and Chris Johnston invited me along to the Sony gamers' day happening down the street. They'd even RSVPd in advance for me, figuring I would want or need to go. (I doubt they knew what a shock it was for me to be included by default.) It was the first glimpse I'd have into the inclusive culture of EGM, where everyone who played games and could write was expected to play games and write for EGM, whether they were a hardcore fanboy weaned on NES or, like me, simply a gaming fan who'd happened to spend way too much time playing SSX Tricky during her unemployment. The Review Crew suffered no idle hands.

Nowadays, girl gamers are everywhere, and it's no longer safe to assume that a girl in the office can't kick your ass at Call of Duty. It's really difficult to believe what those early days were like and to see clearly just how much things have changed, but I'm really happy to have been a part of the transformation. It may have been a natural evolution, but I also feel like being at EGM helped me force things along just a bit. If I wanted to write a story, all I had to do was ask. Wanna review Tony Hawk 4? Sure thing. Think you're the best person to do a Knights of the Old Republic cover story? Go for it. Got an interesting angle for the GTA Hot Coffee scandal? Write it up. These weren't required parts of my job as ME, and often I didn't necessarily have time to take on the extra work. But I knew that by digging in everywhere I could, I was slowly infiltrating the "Boys only" society. It helped that I worked with a tremendous group of people who valued initiative and good old-fashioned elbow grease. Then again, it wasn't always easy; arguing about why "slut" isn't a fair term to use to describe women and why jokes relying on the "girlfriend" punchline were lazy, and constantly insisting we could do better wasn't exactly fun and didn't always make me popular among my coworkers. But even if there were times I would lose the fight, I'm glad I was there to fight at all. And when I look at the make-up of the gaming press now, I am utterly happy to see so many women playing integral roles.

Still, the changes in journalism aren't the only major difference. If it were just that, I'd be thrilled to stick around. The truth is that the era of the hardcore gamer is coming to an end. I used to dream of the day when women would be viewed as equally important to the creative gaming market as the traditional male demographic. But I genuinely never expected I'd see the day when I could get hired to work in game production, focusing specifically on appealing to new types of gamers. When Brain Age and Wii Fit would be system sellers. When a scenario like this would be not just possible, but normal:

Multi-generational Gaming
Originally uploaded by generaltsao.

Yes, the era of the hardcore gamer is coming to an end, and while I've loved my years at EGM, I've also been waiting eagerly for this time to come. For so long, finding a way to reach women gamers was this magical holy grail -- something people could only fantasize about. Nobody had any clue how to do it, and a lot of people didn't believe it could be done. Casual games on the web, World of Warcraft, and Nintendo Wii and DS have proven that it's not only possible, it's happening NOW -- and I simply can't resist the call to join the cause. This has long been an interest of mine (way, way, way before it was cool or profitable :), and it makes sense that now is the time to jump.

But before I did that, I wanted to take this chance to tell you what it was like for one girl during a different era, and to thank you for reading and supporting me through the years. I'm really going to miss you all, and I hope you'll keep in touch on my personal blog.


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McCain's "Overhead Projector"

I was wondering about this. During the debate, McCain mentioned a $3 million "overhead projector" for a planetarium that Obama voted to fund -- using it as evidence of Obama's rampant Democratic spending and penchant for earmarks. Having recently seen the new planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences, I figured this expensive "overhead projector" must have been McCain's way of derogatorily and prejudicially labeling the cool and technologically sophisticated projectors like they have there, which can show the scale of the universe in rapturous detail. (I would have guessed they cost even more.) And as often happens with McCain's attacks on Obama, when you find out the truth, it ends up making Obama look rather good. And this is one of those cases! Read Why does John McCain hate planetariums?


Elvis Sighting! (cross post)

This is originally from my work blog...

We had an Elvis Costello sighting at lunch! Seeing as this isn't New York or London or some other truly cosmopolitan city, it was very exciting. We're figuring he's here for the annual bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park. While we did say hi to him, we tried to keep it short and didn't have a chance to ask... But it was pretty cool and livens up an otherwise ordinary day in 1UP Land, and it confirms something I've long suspected: Eating lunch anywhere but the office pretty much rocks.

See, lately Mike Cruz and I have been venturing out to eat lunch in local restaurants, rather than just grabbing food to take back to the office. Nothing against the ol' 1UP lunch room, but sometimes you just want a change of scenery. And so far, it's been a smashing success. The first time, we sat at a communal table at New Ming's, and the people across the table started talking to Mike about his Gatchaman T-shirt. It was a fun conversation and beat eating in front of a monitor reading blogs and spilling food on my nice white Mac keyboard any day.

Today we decided to eat at a local dim sum restaurant, Yank Sing, which I actually kinda don't like because it's super overpriced and their waiters serve food predatorily (expensive dishes are pushed aggressively, taking advantage of people on business lunches and the fact that dim sum restaurants don't have menus with prices listed on them). And they don't have a changing table for babies and have refused to install one despite promises from their PR director that they would (not that I'm still bitter or anything ;)

But today, we just said what the heck and headed over. As soon as we sat down, I saw someone I thought was Elvis Costello sitting alone a few tables over. The glasses didn't look quite right, and since this is a city with its fair share of bohemian-rocker-scruffedup-hipsters, from two tables away and in profile, it wasn't entirely clear that this was The Man. And despite my being totally obvious about having possibly spotted him and doing double, triple and quadruple takes (sorry Mr. Costello), he seemed to have the outside world tuned out, immersed as he was in Backbeat: Earl Palmer's Story. (Also, I'm sure that, like all longtime celebrities, he's completely inured to the ruckus caused by his very presence among mere mortals.) We continued to eat lunch, fending off the hovering waiters pushily hawking $15 dumplings.

We kept investigating, however, looking for conclusive evidence. This man was using chopsticks with his left hand -- is Elvis Costello left-handed? Nobody else was gawking at him -- but maybe that's just because they're clueless or better-behaved! He was definitely reading a music-related book, and his watch and fancily stitched shirt had that rich, rockstars-only look.... We were becoming more convinced, but we couldn't be sure.

Then I spotted the glasses. On the table sat a telltale pair of his signature horn-rimmed, 60s style, tortoise-shell, whatever-you-want-to-call-them-but-basically-the-kind-Elvis-Costello-wears glasses. Of course! It all became so clear! He was wearing reading glasses and that's why he looked a little different. Such a wily disguise! The man was hiding in plain sight!

We were immediately impressed with ourselves and really wanted to share our discovery with Mr. Costello himself, but luckily we recognized that would have been a bit embarrassing and probably annoying for him. So we waited until we were walking out the door, and then went over to say hello. He held his hand out to shake mine almost reflexively; this must happen to him ALL. THE. TIME. (Again, sorry Mr. Costello.) I asked him a few embarrassing questions ("what are you doing here by yourself? where's your entourage?" to which he replied, "oh, I'm just enjoyin' me lunch and readin' me book" -- so gracious a response to my stupid questions) and made my music-related statement ("I know most people like 'Allison' but personally i prefer 'Veronica,'" which I couldn't help but squeeze in there because I do love that song). And then, satisfied that I had made a complete ass out of myself, we left the man in peace.

All in all, a pretty decent off-campus lunch experience.