I’ll stop gaming when you pry this controller from my cold dead hands

by

Caroline Spector

I love to game.  I’m pretty slutty when it comes to games. Card, board, role-playing, video, computer, mobile – I do not care.  (Of course, nowadays, everyone is a gamer. Or at least enough people that I can make this post work.)

I come by this honestly. I was born into it. This wasn’t an optional thing in my family. Bridge was the game of choice for the adults and at the tender age of 13 – many of the other cousins were indoctrinated at an earlier age – I learned to play because there was often the need for a fourth. (A fourth is someone roped in to play with the hardcore players when they’re missing a player. The we’re-playing-for-the-next-five-hours-straight players.  They’re junkies and they don’t care who they hurt so long as they get their fix. No, really. I’m not kidding. I have the emotional scars to prove it. )  

Now you don’t just “play” in my family. You play in a competitive, take-no-prisoners kind of way. In a there-will-be-no-joy-in-Mudville-if-you-screw-up-this-slam-bid kind of way. In a do-you-want-to-make-your-mother-cry kind of way. (Actually, Mom never did anything of the kind, but it’s funnier this way.) 

I’ve come to believe that this is a gene-linked trait. But nature/nurture, you decide.

Anyway, bridge wasn’t the only game in town. No, there were other card games that the kids played.  The standard ones everyone learns to play: Canasta, Hearts, Spades and so on.  Variants of these involved things I won’t mention here because there might be children reading.   

We played the usual board games when we weren’t being fourths. Our version of Monopoly involved blood oaths and initiations into the dark arts if you landed on No Parking. Getting a hotel on Boardwalk, well, I’d totes make up something funny here, but what happened was anything but. (This is also bullshit. You’d just get punched hard in the arm every time someone landed on it because you were such a robber barron. No, really. I swear. Honestly. You can trust me.) 

We would make up games using the orphaned pieces from other games justto be competitive.  They didn’t make sense, but somebody won and someone was going to pay. 

I’m going somewhere with this, really.

I’ve worked at, and freelanced for, gaming companies. I met my husband at the comic book store where I worked.  Later, we worked together at Steve Jackson Games where our relationship blossomed. (This isn’t unusual. People in traumatic situations often bond.) And yes, we met geekily.  He’s been called a game god, which embarrasses him mightily, but tough noogies, I’m trying to establish my cred here.

My first three novels were a trilogy for FASA’s Earthdawn/Shadowrun lines. I’ll qq (gamer slang for crying)  about those some other time.  I co-wrote a couple of hint books for the Ultima computer game series.

Like half the universe, I played World of Warcraft (WoW from here on out) obsessively. Warren (the husband mentioned above) was uncheerful, to say the least.   No clothes were washed. No floors swept. No dinner prepared. No dog walked.  (Okay, that last one is utter bullshit.  The dog in question was my sweet ba boo, Rufus, whose walkies held up more than a few raids.) It was a fallow period for writing. The only reason I’m not still playing is that my eyes have decided they hate me. 

One reason, for me at any rate, WoW was so much fun was the social aspect of it.  I got to play with real life (RL or IRL) friends such as Bud Simons and others who y’all don’t know so I’m not going to list them here.  And I met people who I never would have met who became friends IRL. And occasionally, I would f*** with the creeps who cluttered up the game.  Girl has gotta do what a girl has gotta do. 

And for those of you who are wondering. (For those who aren’t, y’all might want to skip this paragraph.)  My main was a human warlock. Yes, I was Alliance. What can I say?  Orgrimmar is ugly and Undercity, though cool AF, is somewhat unnecessarily confusing and who has time to do that much running around? I want to get to the Apothecary now. I wasn’t great and I wasn’t geared to the max. I did like in-game PvP, but I was never brilliant at it.  (I like killing rogues.  A lot.) WoW took the edge off my need to win. Sorta.

Poker, however, did not.  I don’t play much anymore. Not because I lost a lot, but because the friendly game I played in kinda fell apart.  And because on-line poker is basically run by, let’s just say, less-than-savory folks. My game is Texas Hold ‘Em.  Again, like the entire world. An easy game to learn, but tough to master. And I did discover that when I go on tilt. (To lose, then to continue to play in a stupid manner.) I. Go. On. Tilt. I’ve even gone on tilt playing Hearthstone. Something that I did not know was even a thing. But it is. Oh, yes, it is.

All this is a long way to explain why I created Ocelot 9, a game in the Wild Cards universe for my character Adesina. Ocelot 9 was originally conceived as an adventure video game set in an extensive explorable world. The early version was aimed at children, but the latest version features a somewhat more grow-up world and adds an option for PvP, introducing a social element as well.

Adesina is pretty hooked on Ocelot 9 when it first appears during the events in my novella, “Lies My Mother Told Me.” (I’m not certain how well-known that story is because it appeared in a non-Wild Cards collection, DANGEROUS WOMEN.) In fact, the game is quite important in that story.

It is significant again in “The Flight of Morpho Girl.” Much of the relationship between Adesina and Ghost is shown through in-game chat and part of the events involve the game and gamer culture.  (Gamer culture in the we-love-games sort of  way. Not the girls-aren’t-allowed-because-they’re-icky way. But let’s not go down that rabbit hole.)       

The game has changed as Adesina has.  When she was in her child/insect form, she played a version of the game designed for younger players.  By the events in “The Flight of Morpho Girl”   

the game has morphed, too. It became a larger game with more competitive fighting elements, except with sparkles because  . . . pretty.  Pretty is a very big thing in Ocelot 9.  (By now, you might have suspected I’m the sort of gal who might spend  a lot of time paper dolling in games like City of Heroes. My main there was a Controller named Silent Night who would never shut up. I spent hours mucking with her costume. But I digress.)

 Ocelot 9 isn’t static. As Adesina has grown and changed, so has the game. She has relationships that are maintained in game space and IRL. 

The point is, games, like other art forms  (yes, it’s an art form when it’s at its very best) impact our lives, becoming part of us, for good and bad.  I wanted to show this in my characters. How there can be cultural shifts and suddenly part of the world  is different.  Made new.  And sometimes it happens when no one is looking. 

Wild Cards isn’t static, it has grown and changed and is a dark mirror of our own world. (Though maybe we haven’t gone far enough with that, but, again, I digress.) 

There would be no Wild Cards at all were it not for the role-playing game SUPERWORLD. A ragtag group of science fiction authors – George R.R. Martin, Melinda Snodgrass, John Jos Miller, Gail Gerstner Miller, Vic Milan, Parris, and Chip Wideman – played it so obsessively they weren’t getting any writing done. They did what any sensible gamers would do – they gamed the system.  They created Wild Cards in order to play in the world, but make it look like work. 

“Who the fuck is Jetboy?” is the sentence that opens INSIDE STRAIGHT and introduces a new generation of characters in the Wild Cards universe.  

The introduction for my characters is far more gentle:  

“I’m gonna kick your ass this next round.”

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Me playing bridge sometime in the ‘80s.  I told you there would be sparkles. And, bad hair.