Note: this was intended to be posted before this year’s Game Developer’s Conference. Somehow it stayed in the draft queue so I’ve backdated it to then. Oops.
“How long is that book?” My friend asked of Clipping Through.
“About 70 pages,” I replied. “It’s more a short story than a book.”
Though Leigh Alexander graciously sent me a press copy of her recent work Clipping Through way back in October, and though I’ve read it through at least twice since then, it’s only now, on the eve of attending my second GDC, that I’m sitting down to write about the work. This is not to say that it was unworthy of praise, as it certainly was; rather, I’ve been having a bit of a task trying to sit down with my own thoughts and organize them, about my first GDC experience, for the better part of a year now.
For, if you haven’t heard yet, Alexander’s Clipping Through is, as the subheading says, “One Mad Week In Games.” She writes that she’s been attending GDC for a few years now (since “2007? 2008?”), a seasoned veteran for whom this is old hat; the same week, parallel to her own experience, was my first. I’m sure our paths crossed at some point, despite my abject horribleness when it comes to recognizing faces. I’m quite sure our stories weaved together at some panel or another. She captures this feeling well, simultaneously thinking in video game references and recognizing nobody and getting all the references and recognizing many.
The piece’s writing itself is, intentionally or not, very evocative of the whole feeling of GDC. It was, what, 78 pages or so? But there was so much back and forth – so much memory while also a lot of present, a lot of movement and a lot of trying to grapple with what happens. Flipping constantly between states and places of being. And it does read like a short story, or an extremely long-form blog post with chapters put in (and to nice effect, breaking up the pages episodically). In some ways, it felt like an alternate universe fanfiction; though the experience was hers, I cannot doubt my own, which was extremely different, one less welcoming but no less of a whirlwind. A mad wind, one could say. Some anecdotes or writing styles felt out of place, but at least during my first experience with GDC, everything – myself included – felt a bit off-kilter.
When it comes to crafting a narrative – despite just that being a kind of awful buzz phrase — Leigh Alexander knows what she’s doing. She knows what point she’s trying to make and does it well, in a compelling, heartful, and highly personal manner that makes for a quick, interesting read that somehow doesn’t spare the details. At times I caught myself wondering why I was reading this, what the purpose was, but then an anecdote would appear and I’d remember: Clipping Through is a fun, personal reflection on a week submerged in the gaming industry. If you’re looking for analysis on panels in women in gaming, you won’t find it; but if you’re interested in a fun and very Real account, complete with brazen accounts of alcohol consumption and forgetting people’s names, you’ve got it. A memoir (if you can call a week’s worth of stories a memoir; an account, no less) that reads like a short story from some anthology somewhere – but then, that makes sense, as short stories are what Alexander does.
And believe me, that’s a compliment; I’d recommend this to anyone looking to go to GDC who hasn’t been before and wants to know the feeling of being there, even if the week itself will be, as are most things, subjective. The story has guts, but then, I suppose you have to be gutsy to survive in this mad industry.
“Fashion is armor here,” she writes. Perhaps that’s why I’m wearing high-heeled boots on my journey westward and wearing lipstick seriously for the first time in several years.