You take games too seriously.

An Interview with Leigh Alexander: Part 1 of 3

tape recorder

Leigh Alexander is one of the most sought-after freelancers in the
games biz – appearing in Gamasutra, Paste, The Escapist, Variety, and Wired, as well as her own personal blog, SexyVideoGameland. We here at Hardcasual tried to channel our jealousy into productivity, and asked her to give us her take on the industry, the media, and the games she loves. And maybe even a pointer or two.

To our surprise, she accepted.

So we bought a tape recorder, a couple of pens and a notepad, looked over our high school journalism books, and vowed to make this a success.

Lucky for us, Leigh Alexander’s really good at interviews. So much so, we’ve divided her’s into three parts, which we’ll post over the next week. First, we discuss her pre-blogging careers, her relationship with theatre, and how she feels about being a female writer in what many consider a male dominated industry.

Check it out after the jump…

Hardcasual: What did you do before game journalism? How did you get here?

Leigh Alexander: I thought I was going to become an actress, actually, just like about every little girl who moves to the big city. I went to acting school for two years, from 2002-2004. You might not know acting is a tough profession to make money at. So after graduation, all my friends got in long, long lines for an embarrassing furniture commercials, and things like that, and I just didn’t feel like I wanted to do that.

I’ve always been a computer geek, and always had good professional skills, so I decided to go and work in an office instead, and become an administrative assistant. That’s what I’d been doing in high school when my friends were working at Starbucks; I was working in offices. So I was doing these office jobs so my boyfriend and I could get our own place, so that I could pay the bills right out of school and I wouldn’t have to get money from my parents anymore. I worked in these offices, and I hated it. I couldn’t keep a job for more than three months, because I’d get so fed up. I worked for PR people, I worked for marketing people, and I worked for financial people, and basically, the way it works in the professional world is [administrative assistants] end up doing everything other people don’t feel like doing.

Basically, it was a real tough job, and I hated sitting at a desk all day. So I couldn’t keep any of these jobs. Literally, I would leave my job every three months because I would quit, or I’d get fired because I was on the Internet all day reading game stuff. So I guess a couple years ago, I was like, “I have to do something else with my life.” I wanted a job that will give me the flexibility to pursue acting, and I wanted a job that…I wanted what I do for a living to be something I care about personally. I don’t want to have “just a job.” So I decided to try writing, and the blog was the first thing I started. And [I] kept writing, kept pitching, got involved with some publications. I got on board with Simon [Carless from Gamasutra].

I just left working for Gamasutra a couple weeks ago, but I had been working for Simon at Gamasutra and doing my editorship of Worlds in Motion for about a year. Now, I continue to do my blog and columns. And I freelance features, articles, and reviews pretty much wherever I can get them published.

HC: How did acting school lead to your career as a writer?

LA: I’ve written a lot about the relationship acting has with people’s natural emotional state. You kind of have to be a really mature person to be a good actor, and [you] need to be really comfortable with yourself and be really self-confident. At the time, I don’t think I was there yet. I’ve never had a problem speaking in front of people, so it’s not because I was shy. It was that I was too self-critical. I was too analytical.

Being critical, being analytical, and being verbal, as opposed to being emotional, make you no kind of actress, but they are good qualities for a journalist. So rather than fight my nature, I decided to see what I’m more naturally suited for.

I would even have teachers who would say to me…we would have an assignment in class, and I would have to prepare an essay. I would have one of those harsh, crazy acting teachers, and she would say, “Your scene was terrible, but your essay was beautiful, and I read it to all my classes. Are you sure you’re not gonna be a writer?” So I’m at acting school, and I’m working so hard to be a good actor, and my teachers are like, are you sure you don’t want to be a writer?” All my teachers said this to me, and I’m like, “No. I’m gonna be an actress!”

I don’t know that I necessarily won’t go back into acting at some point, or maybe try to blend the two and be in TV journalism. But right now, I’m really loving what I do and it suits me better.

HC: Recently, there has been a ground swell in critical theatrical writing about videogames as the world’s theatre and all its players as participants. How do you feel about players defining themselves by their characters in a virtual world?

LA: I’ve written about that—two or three Aberrant Gamer columns back—about the connection I feel about games and theatre. That I feel making games is like making film for a bunch of reasons. But from the consumer’s perspective, I don’t feel we’re actually at that point yet where anywhere near the majority of people think of themselves as characters.

People talk about their WoW “character,” but it’s not really a character; it’s just a behavioral extension of themself. They have role-play servers on Warcraft, but they don’t actually role-play, really. Having avatars in an MMO gives people the opportunity to maybe look at themselves in a different way, but I don’t think they see themselves as “characters,” yet. I don’t think they feel that permission.

When I was in high school MMOs were all about running around somewhere with a gun. They didn’t really have a Warcraft like it is now. Or it was all very masculine spaceship stuff. It wasn’t a vital culture at first, or at least from the outside looking in, it seemed very mechanical. Then when culture started to rise up around MMOs, I got somewhat more interested in it.

And then the first thing that really surprised me when I went into MMOs is [players] have developed an alternate way of being, but it’s not what the developers created. You go in and everyone’s talking in game code, abbreviated statements, to tell the guild what to do. It’s very technical, very grind-oriented, and very game-oriented. It’s not that [players] are interested, in a social way, in “being characters.” And I was surprised. It’s like, they’ve made you this rich world, you get to look like this gorgeous elf, and you don’t want to pretend like you’re an elf, literally?

People are not taking the opportunity to fully and creatively project a second self. I mean, Second Life people are, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish. There’s a behavioral projection. People are, I guess, projecting a half-self behaviorally, but there’s no social alternate reality I can see.

HC: What do you think about being a female writer in a mostly male dominated industry?

LA: The funny thing is I don’t think about it as often as I’m asked to, both by men and women. Personally — and this isn’t intended to judge anyone who feels the need to — I’ve never felt the need to bill myself as a “female writer.” I’m a game writer. I play games. I do think there’s “male taste” in games, versus “female taste” in games sometimes, just like there’s male and female social behavior in the real world. But while there may be a pattern there, there’s not a rule, obviously. So I will sort of discuss my gender when it’s relevant.

There are some real masculine first-person shooters out there about men in the army, and bros with testosterone, and it’s very much about the male human experience, or the traditionally male fantasy. And if I have trouble immersing in it, I say maybe [that’s] because as a female this has not been my reality. Maybe I feel distant from this because the male-male connection is such a part of that storyline. In a case like that my gender’s relevant, but altogether I never thought it’s particularly interesting that I’m a girl. And I don’t really want to be a “grrl gamer” kind of spokesperson.

People do ask me if I think being female makes my work harder or more difficult. Generally, no. Generally, I find that people treat me probably the same as they would if I were a guy. A lot of times, if people don’t find my work through my blog, [readers] think I’m a guy, because I have a gender neutral name, and they’ll say “This dude’s an asshole,” So I’m like, “OK!” And [this happens] especially because I write about boobs and porn so much—things people expect to come out of a male mouth, because women don’t tend to be that objective and critical on female sexuality. That’s one of my quirks, I guess.

There are very few times it makes a difference, and it’s like one percent of the vocal audience. Like with this thing with the “Bad Company” boycott. People didn’t like what I said. I’m not offended by the fact that they didn’t. And I’m not offended if people insult me; it’s online. But there were a few comments like, “Well maybe she’s on her period.” You wouldn’t say that if I were [a guy]. There are only some things that are offensive like that.

Or in large, large audiences, at times when my stuff is exposed to the bigger more hardcore blogs, and people don’t agree with what I’m saying someone will say, “Oh geez, that’s what I get for expecting a girl to have something interesting to say.” To them, to 14-17 year old, hardcore multiplayer males, the fact that I’m a girl is peculiar. And I can understand that because girls are peculiar to people in that age group, period. I was in high school, and I know girls and boys don’t understand each other well during that time in their lives. So if I see discrimination, which I get .2 percent of the time, if I get any of that I think it’s an extension of what people in that age group are going through in real life, and I can understand that.


Return later this week for parts two and three as Leigh gives her take on the industry, writing, and her Wii game collection.


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One Response

  1. […] loves. Now, we’ve got the second part of her interview ready to go (part one’s right here). This time, she speaks about the industry—from the Fat Cats to the have and have-nots of DLC to […]

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