November 2005

I have a stack of Games magazines piled high on my living room radiator. I really oughta see about moving them in the next day or two, as the temperature here in Chicago has dropped into the low 20’s, and the heat’s due to be kicked on any time now.

But they remind me that my life, the long and the short of it, has been far from the straight and the narrow.

I used to believe that grade school and junior high were somewhat unpelasant blurs – shyness and awkwardness punctuated by stacks of books checked out through my mom’s library card, secret worlds explored at recess with backpacks full of rations and hand-drawn maps. Truth be told, I felt a little dull, but not in a bad way. Just, you know, not truly rebellious, not running away from home, not getting into fistfights at school.

When I got into acting, I thought perhaps my life might begin to have a bit more texture, the womanly curves of a life warm and supple and full of a kicky excitement. I treasured those moments of wonder, and I tried to keep them clutched close to me – imagining crushes and limelight and adventure and being discovered and inspiration and Hollywood, all wrapped up in my Coca-Cola rugby shirt and my $5 canvas shoes from Zayre.

High school was even better – boys and dances and notes passed and cliques formed and weekends drenched in scripts and character work and mixtapes and boys and movies. I thought, more than once, “I am on my way. I am improving.”

It’s only recently that I’ve taken another look back over my shoulder and seen a pretty clear path to my heart’s desire here. I see myself, shivering, toes cold from padding across the wooden floors of my dad’s childhood bedroom, to grab another Mad, another Cracked, another Games. I’d click on that old-fashioned light switch with a dry, solid clack and I’d read until I thought my eyeballs would fall out. I’d shyly pencil in the crosswords and rebus puzzles, I’d smirk dryly at the political satire that mostly passed over my head with every “Spy vs. Spy.” I’d fold the back page of Mad and get grossed out by the artwork. Occasionally, I’d be cajoled into coming downstairs to read in the living room with everyone else – my Dad, my Gma, and my brother engaged in a fierce board game showdown.

Every Easter for a while, my Mom would wake us up and show us the first stage of a scavenger hunt throughout the house – pieces of brightly-colored construction paper cut out in egg shapes with clues written on them, like: “The next treasure will be found where clothes are folded and ironed,” and Tyler and I would run down to the basement to the laundry room, and the next hint would have us scrambling up to the attic, hunting amidst the covered furniture pieces and boxes for shiny foil-wrapped candies and scented erasers and notepads and water guns and Silly Putty until we’d get to the end and wonder why we rushed. The journey was always so joyous.

We had an Atari 2600, and we also had the Atari computer, and I’d play with BASIC (oh the horrid music I’d write!) and saving simple text files. I was put into some sort of accelerated program in grade school called PROBE, and we did the paper version of Oregon Trail, and we created labyrinths with household materials and and and …

I guess what I am saying is, I am sometimes surprised that I somehow landed in this world of alternate reality gaming. How random it is to have been transported down this very personal rabbithole into a fresh sense of wonder: I get to see people play and discover and share, and it’s all done in this wicked sidelong glance to our daily lives. A stopgap to the madness of drudgery, the pain of other things that ache our hearts and tax our spirits. Fluffy or intense, this way of narrating our surroundings into something new seems to settle on me like a familiar mantle. It feels right, and exciting.

And yet, my background is textured, not dull. Full of wonder and discovery. Puzzly and narrated by someone with a sense of humor. All these things I’ve known and done have been apparently leading up to something like this. At least, it feels that way.

A few years back, two good friends of mine gave me a tarot pendant as a Christmas gift. Inscribed on the reverse of the card image is

The Ace of Wands is the culmination of the suit. Wands are associated with great enterprise and glory.

It suits me. Shut up, it does.

We’re sick of viral marketing, and ARGs are why

We KNOW that marketers will eventually give us all of the details on their products if they want to sell them, so why should we care to solve silly puzzles in order to learn trivial product details? Seriously: why?

Don’t you worry your 8-bit head over it, dude. You’re already at the end of the Consumer Spectrum the viral marketers are pushing people towards. You’re not necessarily being marketed to, if recent efforts can be construed as “typical,” but you can still enjoy a free game. You can still ignore it. For free!

Anecdotal: I played Halo: Combat Evolved and liked it a lot. I was planning on purchasing Halo 2, but it wasn’t until I participated in several puzzle relay situations with the Unfiction community during ilovebees that I seriously considered purchasing an XBoxLive subscription – which is incidentally about to renew itself sometime next week, for another year.

Also: Our Colony? Not an ARG. Origen? Not an ARG. That’s been pointed up in the article’s comment section anyhow, and with some vehement eloquence by ARG fans.