Sunday, January 11, 2009


"Reviewing books and TV shows is easy; as easy as sitting in a chair and passing judgement. . . . By contrast, reviewing new media is a headache . . . . Where television critics lean back, video-game critics lean forward, working wrists and feet and eyes, inputting information and advancing many, many levels in extremely hard games in order to work up even the baseline authority to write a capsule review."
  --Virginia Heffernan, "The Burden of Interactivity," New York Times magazine, January 11, 2009

Write what you know, we often tell writing students, but that advice doesn't help much if you want to write from inside of a culture that is foreign to you.  And why would you want to do that? Why would I,  for example, someone who has made a small reputation as a poet and memoirist writing out of what she knows: the culture of place, specifically  New Orleans and south Louisiana,  want to learn the culture of video games?  Why would I, someone deeply interested in nature and the environment, someone who has backpacked to Alaska and Ecuador, climbed glaciers and swum in Amazonian waters, someone who is director of a writing program inspired by Rachel Carson, want, at age 54, to spend hours and hours playing a video game in order to write about it?  

Because in order to grow as a writer you have to challenge everything you think is certain.  I watch my journalist husband expand his knowledge base every day in order to write with authority about news events.  It's also exciting--and scary-- to take on new projects that are vastly different in scope from the ones you've been working on.  

I do bring my love of nature and environment to the video game that I'm playing;  I'm extremely sensitive to the landscape of the game as it appears on the screen, and thoughtful about how the development of virtual "places" in video games might have affected the large numbers of kids who grew up playing them, and how it's affecting me.  I'm interested in how the choices you make in playing a game affect--or don't--the environment around you.  In some games, for example, you can pollute the waters, cause global warming to occur, make animals go extinct, fish all the fish out of the ocean.  In some cases the choices you make with respect to the virtual environment will cause your character or your character's culture to die.

Mother of a son diagnosed at one point with ADHD, I'm also interested in any intelligent research that connects attention deficit disorder, either positively or negatively, with the playing of video games.  I'm also interested in communicating with a generation of  boys and young men (like my son and step son) who have been immersed in these games for hours and hours on end.  What are they doing?  What are they thinking?  Is it all about killing or is there something else?


  1. I'm blanking on the name of the game, but I had a friend in college who played it nonstop--it was one of those online fantasy role-playing games. He was a sort of student at my college, but I knew him more as the boyfriend of my friend Jenna. Jenna and I lived in the dorm, so we'd go to Fritz's to get high and spread out on his apartment's faded plaid couches.

    Fritz and his roommate worked for the college's cafeteria and during the summers they collected unemployment and played video games. Fritz made $2,000 one summer, working up to high levels and then selling amulets and magic wands on ebay--he told me his clients were mostly middle aged housewives.

    After a few years of playing, Fritz started to look at his relationship to the game as an addiction. After months of thinking about it, he said goodbye to the character whose mind and body he'd inhabited for years and hit "delete."

  2. The game was called EverQuest.

  3. One last comment on this....
    A note from Fritz himself (I emailed him to ask the name of the game, and told him that one of my professors was working on a book about gaming):

    It was indeed Everquest. These days however the online game that dominates the market is World of Warcraft. It has a far more main stream following than Everquest did, and is arguably more addictive. Where EQ reached a few hundred thousand subscribers at its peak, WoW is currently at slightly over 11.5 million. If your teacher is looking to do research on video games and online communities, he/she should start there.

  4. Thanks for this--yes I have played Everquest too. It was a lot of fun. But not as addicting as WOW, and it's the addiction part that I'm interested in mostly--why this one is so much more addicting than the others.