Like the Internet, the gaming industry is a world of many faces. We have our bright, smiling 3D Marios and Call of Dutys to show to the outsiders looking in, the Journeys and the Gone Homes to pass among ourselves with the internal pretension we thrive on, and the Papers Pleases and Nidhoggs that only to most invested of us appreciate. In between these castes are areas of grey; strange lands full of games that are off the beaten path. They’re provocative, raw, and downright weird. Stalking through these dark, dirty black markets and back streets like a hard-nosed gumshoe is Cara Ellison, neo-noir opinioneer and aficionado of games less traveled.
Game Journalist is really only the start of her credentials. Though writing about them is her bread and butter, she’s also a member of the “money where her mouth is” club, being a member of development and production teams of indie games like Sweatshop HD. Her journey to document the little people of the industry has made her quite the globehopper, as well, her adventures taking her deep into the hearts of some the planet’s greatest cities in hopes to find little gaming gold mines. A regular Lara Croft of gaming’s sometimes hollow, cavernous communities.
I got my first experience with Ellison’s particular brand of media commentary the same way a lot of my “game writing hobbyist” peers did. Back last August, many people eagerly awaited the press’s impressions of Hotline Miami 2, one of the previous year’s sleeper hits (as well as one of my favorite games of 2012). Many people were impressed with the game, or at the very least, didn’t hate the idea of a sequel. Except Cara, who would immediately shook the cretin-shacked tree of the Internet by delivering her impressions of the game (also known as: doing her job). The misogynist Sharknado that manifested soon after probably wasn’t her first taste of Internet natural disaster, but it was one of the first times I’d seen the gaming public react so poorly to such a legitimate concern. It’s almost like they forgot to read the parts of the article that clearly suggested that she was among those who liked and were excited about the game. She didn’t need it, but it was at that point she gained my sympathy. And a twitter follow.
Twitter was where I think my unrequited affection for this punchy word-slinger really took hold. No day goes by without something utterly fascinating/outrageous being transmitted via 140 character mini rant straight into my cold, black, cynical blood bumper. I’ve seen the power of networking, via her plugs of the games various unsung heroes that lack the mindshare or ego saturation of our Cliffy Bs or Ken Levines. I found out that there’s not only a sex game genre, but a sex game community, thanks to her monthly RPS feature, S.EXE. There are parts of my collective language and lexicon that have been infiltrated by her goddamn ridiculous weild of modern English (“Highway to the Bonerzone” will never be unread). If that ain’t at least a crush, I don’t know crushes. Which may not be a great idiom, considering my cold, black, cynical blood bumper thing from a couple sentences ago.
Mild curiosity evolved into some sort of affection Venusaur after her first of what is hopefully a series of Patreon-sponsored embedded articles. The idea: become the game journalism world’s Anderson Cooper, and sit in the trenches of the game developer’s battlegrounds, documenting the drama from the front lines, and maybe even save a refugee child or two. Her trip to London to hang with George Buckenham and Alice O’Connor was part behind-the-scenes exposé about game design in its rawest form and part personal reconciliation with a Cara-shaped ghost she left behind in The Smoke. It’s one of the best pieces of writing from our genre I’ve ever read.
To me, I think Ellison has become somewhat of a rogue hero. Writing for games is not my day job, and unless the average salary goes up a couple grand, it probably never will be. Even still, I get caught up in the mainstream idea of games writing. What to say, how to say it, how to sound diplomatic or needlessly hopeful. Then I watch Cara – who makes her living writing about games – write fearlessly about them. About her qualms with hot button issues. About how some games may just not be as good as we say they are. About games that may never get the respect they deserve. About how they make her feel. If this woman is eating off of her balls out approach to the craft, there’s no reason I shouldn’t start to get a little more awesome with my work as well. I have issues I want to talk about too, dammit!
To the uninitiated: run to your favorite game related internet press outlet (Rock Paper Shotgun, Kotaku, PC Gamer, The Guardian, Giant Bomb, etc.) and eyeball her musings. Follow @Carachan1 on Twitter, and let her beguile you as she has done me. Send her money and food, should she need it. Whatever she wants, don’t be an asshole!