An Incomplete List of Things I’d Need to Know In Order Not to Be A Total Impostor

In honor of folks freaked out about how many things they “have to” do to advance their career, I present a very partial list of things I’ve been encouraged or expected to do/know since I got into games.

Not shown: which of these were fantastic advice, which were legit job requirements, and which were gatekeeping.

  • history and canon of literary hypertext in the 90s
  • improv technique
  • theories of narratology
  • all works of Infocom, Scott Adams, Melbourne House, Magnetic Scrolls, etc
  • canon and design trends in CYOA and gamebooks
  • who’s who in Oulipo
  • history of text adventures in languages other than English
  • state of digital humanities as a field
  • Prolog, Answer Set Programming, and other logic programming approaches
  • general history of table-top roleplaying game development and some rough concept of what goes on in LARP design both North American and Nordic
  • Agile dev practices and a bunch of specific associated software and systems
  • every game ever submitted to the IF Comp in its 24 years of history
  • transmedia: what are/were the major projects, what are/were the tools, why haven’t we heard so much about it lately
  • running safe and inclusive spaces, codes of conduct and the arguments concerning these
  • nonprofit fundraising and institutional development
  • JavaScript
  • who is working on narrative games, game AI, or procedural generation at the academic, indie, and AAA levels in the US and Europe and ideally elsewhere also
  • freelance scheduling, billing, networking, insurance, accounting, marketing and time-management strategies
  • recent developments in interactive video and audio
  • conversational pragmatics
  • stage magic techniques
  • C#
  • norms of participation in academic conference program committees and journal reviewing
  • marginalized authors in games and IF, and standout works that capture unusual experiences
  • the landscape of London games/writing/journalism/TV/radio personalities specifically
  • escape room design and canon
  • interactive documentaries, canon and tooling
  • roguelites
  • the complete oeuvre of Telltale
  • locational games, canon and tooling
  • Lua
  • every game that’s nominated for an IGF narrative award or other industry writing award, whether or not I was on the judging panel at the time
  • uses of interactive storytelling in museums and cultural heritage sites
  • who’s who in speculative fiction and what they’re doing these days
  • standard wisdom about running startups, MVPs, and attracting investment
  • ontology and knowledge representation
  • writing for voice actors
  • accessible app design for narrative-heavy apps
  • art direction
  • educational game design and requirements for school-facing projects
  • design practices for VR and AR
  • how to deal with being interrupted repeatedly, and other apparently gendered behavior that is hard to call out in the moment
  • TADS, StoryNexus, StorySpace, Varytale, Twine, ink, Tracery, Texture, Unity, Unreal, GameMaker Studio, Hugo, Alan, Quest, Ren’Py, AIML, ChatScript, and assorted specific modding tools; how to plug these together, in some cases
  • physical object storytelling, both in terms of common practice and in terms of production methods
  • theme park design
  • assorted visualization tools, now mostly JavaScript-based, though at one point there was a trend for Processing
  • IF and narrative game publishing venues
  • government grant application processes
  • typography and layout
  • Tableau
  • public speaking skills
  • board games with a narrative or storytelling element
  • every “blockbuster” AAA game
  • natural language processing methods; NLTK, assorted online APIs
  • attend GDC, SXSW, PAX, PAX East, E3, IndieCade, Practice, GamesCom, Amaze, Develop, EGX, AdventureX, Feral Vector, ELO, ICCC, ICIDS, FDG, AIIDE, DiGRA, INT, et al. (yearly)
  • narrative content design for MMOs
  • history and current status of academic research programs in procedural narrative
  • trends and marketing concerns in children’s interactive ebooks
  • machine learning methods and tools
  • how to write a literary novel that would garner respect, e.g. by winning the Man Booker Prize
  • everything that would be taught in an undergraduate computer science course
  • immersive theatre, what the major shows are and how they work
  • assorted specific culture references, especially WestworldHarry Potter, and Game of Thrones
  • advergaming and viral marketing game tie-in methods
  • how to write a popular novel that would make buckets of money and appear on the NYT bestseller list
  • assembly language
  • narrative design for free to play systems
  • alt controller design
  • how to wear clothes as a woman at an industry event
  • current market size and revenues from interactive fiction games and narrative-heavy games
  • Alexa skill creation
  • Personal Brand development
  • computational creativity theories and practices
  • dozens of books of writing and design advice for game writers, screenwriters, novelists, etc, etc
  • computational paralinguistics
  • which parties to go to at GDC and how to get in
  • detailed CV of the person I just met, who is no doubt famous, but unknown to me
  • C++
  • Zizek

Instead of Power

CarrieThis is part review, part essay. There are light spoilers for Naomi Alderman’s The Power and N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, and major spoilers for The Last Jedi.


I wrote previously about my hopes for The Last Jedi: that I wanted to see a movie about Leia as an older female leader, a woman of command. I felt the need for that movie badly. I wasn’t at all sure I was going to get it.

So I went to the cinema in a spirit of apprehension and hope.
Continue reading “Instead of Power”

High XP Women, Continued

CarrieI don’t follow movie marketing closely, and I’d describe myself as a less-than-avid Star Wars fan. Liked it as a child; had a Darth Vader lunch box; was disappointed by episodes 1-3; didn’t expect much from The Force Awakens.

But I love this poster from a character series for The Last Jedi. Some of that’s for superficial reasons — the classy design, the beauty and menace of that vibrant red, the lush high-collared cloak. I would love a cloak like that.

Some is sentiment; I was more sad about Carrie Fisher’s passing than I would have expected, and learned things about her that I hadn’t previously known. I am glad to have one more movie of hers to see.

But I love other things too. The poster doesn’t downplay, conceal, or apologize for the fact that Leia is an older woman in this shot. Her hand, her throat and mouth, are graceful without being fake-young. She wears bold jewelry. She doesn’t discard her femininity here in order to assume a role of power, but the adornment that she wears is also not sexualized. It reads to me not as “I have dressed like this to attract men,” but “I have dressed like this because it pleases me, and because I have in the course of my life earned a certain status.”

And her pose itself: chin up, looking outward. We can’t see her eyes — all of the posters in this series cut off the face before the eyes — but where many of the other characters have some kind of physical action pose, General Leia surveys and assesses. The mental action is hers, not the viewer’s alone.


The red Leia poster says all those things on its own, I think, but it pulls those meanings in even more strongly if you compare where we came from.

I could write about the differences here but I feel like the contrast of those two posters is fully eloquent without my help.


A lot of women I know, including myself, have to make a journey from object to subject. Indeed, for me it’s not so much a journey as a daily commute. I’m aware that there are consequences to how I present myself, and I have chosen to think about that rather than pay the price for ignoring it. But it takes work and judgment to balance that with one’s own perspective and preferences. It helps to have reminders to look outward.

Most of all, I feel like the red-cloak Leia poster and the behind-the-scenes trailer are hinting at things that I really want from this movie. Maybe I’m reading in too much. Maybe I’m not going to receive what I’m hoping for. But I deeply want to see more stories and art about older women of authority and power. I need those stories, not out of some kind of abstract accounting of representation numbers, but because I’m looking for teaching and inspiration about what I can become as I grow older, and pop culture is not offering much. I am not a mother, and I don’t plan to be. Portrayals of authoritative matriarchs are sometimes extremely cool, but they don’t help me with my future.

Instead I’m drawn to media about women at the top of their profession, in positions of management or authority. I watched The Good Fight with interest partly because of this: it’s a spin-off of the hugely popular The Good Wife, but focuses on the nearly retirement-age Diane Lockhart, a founding partner in her firm. There were a few things about The Good Fight where I thought its messaging a bit heavy-handed. But still, it hits some notes that resonated with me. Vulture writes up one of the key scenes thus:

There’s a lovely moment in all of this where Barbara asks Diane if she’s ever regretted not having children. I’m positive Diane must have had a similar conversation on The Good Wife that I’m not remembering, but it’s fascinating regardless, especially when she says she most regrets it when she thinks of Kurt. She wonders what a son of his would be like, and later, she calls him, but then quickly hangs up. My imagining of Diane has always been “childfree by choice, no regrets,” and it’s fun to be surprised by her after all these years, even if the moment is bittersweet. — Lauren Hoffman for Vulture

…but this doesn’t describe why I connected with this scene. What Diane says is that the work has always been both central and sufficient for her. She can imagine a road not taken, and feel a little curiosity or a little wistfulness about that. But the dialogue does not, to my mind, suggest she’s made a mistake. In contrast with a lot of common tropes, it acknowledges that a woman can have a vocation, can rise to the top of her field, can be her best and happiest self, can give the most that she has to give to the world, through her career. That can all be true even if you have a vague tug of feeling about the other possibilities if your life had turned out differently.

And I’m drawn to things about empathetic styles of authority, whether the role models in question are male or female. I feel like General Leia is a particularly interesting case to look at here. She chose not to train as a Jedi even though she has the potential. Instead, rather than depart for solitary training in an often-coercive ability, she has remained at the head of her community and applied her “Force strength” more in the form of increased intuition. Now, to some degree that plays into feminine intuition tropes, but still, I feel like there could be a great story here, not only about what she did but about why she did it.

I have no idea how much The Last Jedi is going to tell that story. But I can hope.


Thanks to a cruel editorial by Alex St. John and a rebuttal by Rami Ismail, the conversation about crunch is making the rounds again.

St. John’s editorial gains extra overtones if you also look at his amazing guidance about hiring, which is all about how to leverage people’s personalities, relationships, and neuro-atypical conditions in order to maximize profit. If you’re prone to making obscene gestures at the screen when you read something bogglingly sexist, you might want to limber up your fingers before you click through to those slides.

I was already thinking about this topic because of my own recent attempt to evaluate time use, and because one of the comments about that basically said “hey, you’re incredibly lucky that get to do what you care about!” with an implication that I shouldn’t be looking into how I’m doing it, or whether I’m doing it in the most efficient possible way, because that would be questioning this god-sent gift.

I am incredibly lucky that I get to do things I care about. I said so in that post and I’m happy to say so again. But that’s not the only thing to consider.

So let’s talk about time commitment and “passion.”

Continue reading “Passion”


I’ve been trying to get a grip on how my IF support time is spent, because I feel like I’m working harder, but simultaneously turning down more requests and taking more time to get around to deadline-free requests. This is a post about how I spend that time. I realize this may seem a bit self-regarding, so please please feel free to skip on past this discussion if it grosses you out.

However, if you’re interested in community overhead and dynamics, I’m hoping that a little transparency will help — both help me figure out what to prioritize better, and help others understand either why I can’t handle their requests or where the community might bolster its resources to good effect.

So I went back through my email and social media contacts and did a little analysis on the following parameters:

  1. It covers only requests made in the past 3.5 weeks. It doesn’t look at things that people asked me to do prior to that window, whether or not I completed them during that time. (I made it 3.5 weeks rather than a month because during that extra week, I was traveling and my time use was atypical, including more student meetings etc.)
  2. It does include what you might call implicit requests, things that no one explicitly asked me to do but that are ongoing parts of my community role, such as Meetup organizing, or covering Spring Thing.
  3. It does not include regular client work or compensated speaking engagements.
  4. It includes only a very loose, rough estimate of requests for information on Twitter or through DMs — I get a lot of those, so I went with average contact numbers from Twitter’s analysis dashboard rather than trying to go through every single contact request and give it a time estimate.
  5. It does not include writing blog posts except the Spring Thing posts and posts that were answers to specific questions. I consider writing a certain number of analytical blog posts to be part of my job, because though no one pays me to do it, it raises visibility, and helps me record and think through knowledge I’ve acquired as career skills. So that work is accounted for separately.

For each line item, I recorded whether I had accepted the request, whether or not I had performed it already, and how many hours I estimate the request took (or will take when I do it). Hour estimates do include things like travel and prep time for speaking engagements, since that consumes hours that I am not able to spend otherwise.

Given how much is estimated and how much is left out, the numbers will be more precise than they are accurate, but I’m at least confident that they’re conservative: that is, I am seldom over-reporting the amount of time requested or spent.

I should also preface this by saying that this is not a complaint and it is also not fishing for thanks. I choose to spend my time this way, and if you wrote to me and I answered you, it’s because I wanted to do so and think it was worthwhile. I am just trying to figure out how to rebalance things a little so that the time I’m spending is as productive as possible and I can maximize the needs met as a result.

Here’s the breakdown from March 24 to April 15:

Continue reading “Time”

Love Stories for High-XP Characters

Scully“I’m here.”

It’s the fourth episode of the new revived X-Files season. Scully is keeping a sad vigil in a DC hospital. Mulder has been in Philadelphia working on a series of vividly gruesome murders. But he drops that and goes to the hospital and calls her from outside the ward and says just “I’m here.” — but it calls back all the times he was there for her before, and all the times he wasn’t, and it’s one more move in a very long game.

This is a couple that had one of the longest, most artificial Unresolved Sexual Tension arcs in television history, including multiple fake-outs from unrepentant writers. They kissed but it was only a dream. They kissed but it was a hallucination. They kissed (or nearly so) but one of them was really a shape-shifter or possessed/body-swapped by another entity. (That one happened multiple times.) They were about to kiss but one of them was coincidentally just at that exact moment stung by a hybridized bee carrying an instantly-debilitating alien virus.

And just when, as a couple, they were finally moving past that, Duchovny left the show, so Mulder and Scully’s relationship went into another kind of limbo where they never saw one another.

Then there was the second X-Files movie, of which defiantly I liked the first half. No one else liked any of it, as far as I can tell. The movie skipped any further will-they-won’t-they shenanigans and went straight ahead to Mulder and Scully as long-term cohabiting partners. And now, in the new series, they’ve come through partnership and lust and mortal peril and a child they had to give up, through living together and then not living together. They are in another place now, a place that television rarely visits and where video games pretty much never go at all.

If you’re thinking that this doesn’t sound like a very well constructed show, I hear you. The writers have quite a bit to answer for, and I haven’t even gotten into how silly and inconsistent the main plot arc is. But back in the day, I used to watch it because I found Scully riveting, especially after the first couple of seasons when she stops seeming quite so nervous to prove herself. In her self-containment and determination, I saw a rare model of how to be a professional adult woman with a partially technical job. She wasn’t a Stone-Cold Female Executive, and she wasn’t defeminized or dehumanized by her nerdy knowledge. She also wasn’t doing all the emotional labor, bringing brownies to the FBI building or listening to the woes of other agents. She had connections and relatives and feelings, but also boundaries and agency and ethics. She could perform femininity but she didn’t seem to be trapped by it. And for all the tension with Mulder, for all the times she was in mortal peril, she was never, ever just the girlfriend or woman-in-a-fridge or a prize for anyone. She seemed lonely — I always wanted a larger community than Scully seemed to have. But in a lot of other respects, when I pictured what I wanted for my future self, I pictured Scully’s assurance, her absolute competence, her combination of empathy and self-preservation.

Now that she’s older and I’m older too, she’s even more of a rarity on TV: a woman who is allowed to be, and appear to be, over 35; a woman with a functioning and evolving professional life; a woman in a relationship with strata.

She and Mulder together have a relationship that is similarly uncommon, a relationship that is not about young love or bodies in their 20s but also not a cutely condescending Denny’s-ad caricature of elderly lovers.

And as so often when starving for a certain kind of story or a certain kind of representation, I’m willing to forgive flaws (perhaps a lot of flaws) in order to hear this story at all.

Continue reading “Love Stories for High-XP Characters”