Rachael Webster / PixelVixen707, Part 2

Abstract image evoking bird silhouette

PV1Like the Hollywood of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the PixelVixen707 blog is a place where the fictional and real co-exist. Rachael Webster is a native of the Domestic City; she is a character who might have once been the teenage indie-game-hipster Emily’s roommate and has now somehow found her way into the real world. Games have unchallenged cultural value in her world and she naturally takes it for granted in her writing. Her blog posts never suggest a desire to see the medium mature or become something it’s not already. When Duncan Fyfe writes “We can do better” he exhibits optimism for the future of games that a lot of us share. In contrast, Rachael Webster writes in her critique of Fracture “I thought our standards were higher.” It’s a subtle difference which I don’t think is a fluke of language. Fracture is disappointing to her because it fails to meet certain standard expectations, not because it failed to exceed them. She never blames bad games for not fulfilling the potential of this medium just as no one blames Transformers 3 for holding back film.

In the world of PixelVixen707 games are ubiquitous. I don’t mean a console in every living room, but rather games of all types permeating every aspect of daily life – the kind of stuff Jane McGonigal often goes on about. Her friend thinks she’s too shy to meet developers and network at GDC, so Rachael develops a game of sorts that will entice people to seek her out. She later makes a bet with her dad that involves searching for an old arcade machine – the first video game she ever played. She turns to her readers for help solving the mystery, at one point asking us to play actual arcade games and submit our high-scores. These are, of course, alternate reality games. Rachael is a fictional character from an alternate reality, so what else could they be? But if she was a real person, if everything she wrote about the coin-op was true, would it not still be a game?

Everyone agrees that Rachael was running an ARG at GDC, but how is what she did any different from the IdleThumbs newspaper? For a few days those guys lived in an alternate reality where they roleplayed newsboys and print journalists and where game criticism, not just Halo 3 launch day mania, can appear on the front page of a newspaper. For several weeks the person (or persons) behind Rachael Webster was roleplaying a journalist in a temporary reality where nobody thought twice about Tim Schafer and Planescape: Torment retrospectives appearing alongside reviews of Blueberry Garden and inFamous on a website that describes its subject matter as “Beautiful naked punk rock, goth and emo girls with tattoos and piercings.” Just two months after Duncan Fyfe finished his Domestic City series of short fiction that had games appearing everywhere and anywhere, we saw Rachael Webster making it a reality with her Suicide Girls columns.

I believe the reason she started blogging was to make us consider the role of identity and games in our lives. I don’t think it was a marketing gimmick. I read the entire PixelVixen707 blog archives and never once saw a link to an upcoming book or product of any sort. I think, in a way, she was preparing us for the next decade. It will be a decade where identity is even more blurred and associated with social web representation than it is today, and those of us who don’t embrace alternate/augmented reality games will end up being left in the dust by a younger generation that experiences the outside world through projections and mobile phone screens in ways we’re only beginning to imagine. I never did submit an arcade score to Rachael and now I’m left wondering why. Rachael and her games offered a glimpse of a future we’re all going to be part of whether we like it or not, and I wasn’t an active participant. I think this is the kind of introspection she wanted to inspire, and is what will stick with me long after I’ve forgotten whether she panned or praised Fracture.

Her quality of writing was top notch. None of this meta stuff would have worked if nobody wanted to read her blog in the first place. Her critiques were sharp and witty, incorporating references to pop culture and other mediums that were notable for the simple fact they didn’t seem forced. For example, in “Left 4 Dead is PUNK AS FUCK” she compares Left 4 Dead to a moshpit, some of its players to hardcore punks, its campaign structure to a film, and then includes a throwaway joke mentioning how the Obama election failed to reform XBL racism. And why not? As far as Rachael’s concerned you can write about politics and racism and film and the punk scene in a post about a video game without making it an awkward 6,000 word essay dissecting what it all means for the future development of the medium.

One of my favourite lines is from her fourth post, a review of God of War: Chains of Olympus. In her short plot summary of the game she writes: “There's also a titan, Atlas, who you can chain to the bottom of the world with a few well-timed button clicks.” There’s no jadedness, judgement, or excited claim to a new sighting of ludonarrative dissonance; just a deadpan statement that succinctly illustrates the game’s ridiculous marriage of narrative and mechanics.

We’re going to see more writers like Rachael in the next few years. I don’t mean invented personas, but rather writers with a style that can only come honestly and comfortably from someone who grew up in a world where games have the kind of cultural relevance and ubiquity that makes constant justification unnecessary. I have a 12 year old cousin who is more hyped than I am for Beatles: Rock Band and is always asking me for iPod Touch game recommendations. She’s not an outlier, she’s one of an entire generation of girls that are growing up with Facebook, games, iPods. I don’t know if my cousin will want to write about games, either as a hobby or professionally, but I think it’s inevitable that that is something many of her peers will pursue. Nothing Rachael did or wrote will seem extraordinary next to the output of this new generation, but the sneak-peek she provided us with has been fascinating.