In Games, We Sometimes Find a Community

Gaming actually really helps me alot to calm down and get out of the troubling parts of my life, and to clear my mind of things that happen. It’s like you go into a different universe.

Caine Stands Up from The Bully Project on Vimeo.

Caine Smith’s story is one of the powerful narratives filmed for The BULLY Project, the social action campaign inspired by the documentary film BULLY. We’ve sparked a national movement to stop bullying that is transforming kids’ lives and changing a culture of bullying into one of empathy and action. The power of our work lies in the participation of individuals like you and the remarkable list of partners we’ve gathered who collectively work to create safe, caring, and respectful schools and communities. Join Caine in taking a stand today!

WWW.THEBULLYPROJECT.COM
WWW.FACEBOOK.COM/BULLYMOVIE
WWW.TWITTER.COM/BULLYMOVIE

Special Pre-Orders for Dungeons + Dreamers

As of today, John and I have officially sent the Second Edition to our copy editor, which means we’ve entered the production phase of the publishing process. That also means we have a tentative publishing date set for mid-March. (Does it get more tentative than a non-specific time in March?)

Pre-Order the Book

The good news: You don’t have to wait until mid-March to read the book. You can pre-order the book now, and that means you’ll receive the EPUB in late January and the print book in mid-February. We’re offering two different pre-order packages:

A signed copy of Dungeons & Dreamers ($12.50 including shipping)
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or

A signed copy copy of Dungeons & Dreamers + a non-DRM EPUB version ($15.00 including shipping)

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A note of caution

We’ll begin shipping pre-ordered books as soon as possible. The EPUBs will be delivered as soon as the copy editor is finished with her work, and the print books will be delivered as soon as we receive the first batch from our clearing house, which is generally about 6 weeks before the book will be available in stores.

While we’re partnering with the ETC Press for distribution, we’ll be handling the pre-orders ourselves. In other words, our dates may slip a few days here and there, but we promise to keep you in the loop.

(Almost) “Order your copy today.”

We on the last edits, the copy editor stands ready, and the designs are ready to go. We’re just about into the production process, which means pre-sales will be happening soon. To get ready for that, we’ve made these handle little reminder cards:

Buy Me!

ARGs and the Ending That Wasn’t

The best stories rarely make it into the final draft of a book. I’m convinced of this.

In the First Edition, I wrote what I thought would be the epilogue. It was the story of  Richard Garriott’s mother as she spearheaded the creation of the Leonardo’s Children Museum in Enid, Oklahoma. This wasn’t just any museum project. Helen Garriott wasn’t raising money or advocating the city government. Nope. She helped design the museum, helped get it built, and then she helped gathervolunteers to assemble the structure.

The guy who helped build massively multiplayer virtual worlds was raised by an astronaut and a woman who helps a town create and assemble an interactive children’s museum.

It was, I believed, the perfect end to the story of virtual worlds and communities. It brought together the beginning strands of Richard’s life in a way that illustrated our larger theme.

At least until we read the chapter in the context of the book. Then we realized that structurally it was completely disconnected from our narrative, and thus ended up on the cutting room floor.

Oops, I Did It Again

I’d like to tell you that I learned from this misstep in the Second Edition, but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. As John and I talked through how the story should progress, I found myself returning to the idea of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) as the next evolutionary step in massively multiplayer online worlds. For years I’d argued this was the logical end to the book.

Even as I just wrote that last paragraph, my stomach ached. I was convinced that these transmedia stories would play an important role in the future of computer games.

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The Last Word, Violence and Games, and Coming Full Circle with Dungeons & Dreamers

CPL Frag 4 Tournament areaIn 2006, John and I began working on what would become the Second Edition of Dungeons & Dreamers. For a variety of reasons, it’s taken us almost 8 years to get this story finished, but it now appears as if that journey is almost complete. We’ve edited, rewritten, haggled, reported, thrown out, and rebuilt the book, and in just a few weeks we’ll send it off to the copy editor, where it will get one last look.

We’ve also got a few special guest readers looking at the manuscript, and if all goes well they’ll be telling you what they think about the story.

That’s for later, though. Now I’d like to share with the last original words I’ll be writing in the book and why they have turned out to bring me full circle.

First, the last two paragraphs

This in response to a section we wrote about a small cohort of psychologists who have unsuccessfully tried to link violent games with violent actions, and these are the last two paragraphs I have written for the book

* * *

Expanding those tentative observations to conclude that games or other media caused violent or aggressive was a vastly more controversial proposition. Some researchers took this step, while others — including the Supreme Court in ruling against the State of California’s attempt to curtail the sale of violent video games — ultimately said they were going too far.

“California relies primarily on the research of Dr. Craig Anderson and a few other research psychologists whose studies purport to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children. These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them,6 and with good reason: They do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively (which would at least be a beginning). Instead, ‘[n]early all of the research is based on correlation, not evidence of causation, and most of the studies suffer from significant, admitted flaws in methodology.'”

(The second graph comes from Justice Antonin Scalia’s 2011 opinion that found video games were protected by the First Amendment.)

Second, the reason this matters

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Coming Soon…and a preview

Tentative CoverAfter years of writing, we’re down to the last few edits. We have a (mostly) completed and re-written manuscript, we have a draft out to some amazingly kind readers, we have the printing process nailed down, we have the press materials ready, and now we have the front cover (tentatively) designed.

Since you’ve been popping back every now and again, I thought it only fair to share it with each of you. (And don’t forget to sign up for details about the forthcoming release.)

It’s not quite the orange and blue electric cover from the first edition, but this is more like what we had in mind years ago.

Kudos to our designer Katelin Carter, who was given the task of making this look like something Apple might design while also representing virtual communities. It was a Herculean task, and one that we are thankful that she embarked upon.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the cover, and we’re looking forward to finishing our work.

Why You Think Appalachians Vote Against Their Self Interest

“The only way it’s ever going to change for us is if a poor person is elected president, and that isn’t going to happen.”

How I See People Viewing Appalachia

When elections roll around, I try to pay close attention to how people speak about Appalachia. I do that because I’m both interested in how candidates address the idea of race and class without ever mentioning either, and I’m interested how commentators respond to that politicking.

In general, here’s how I divide that commentary:

  • those who can’t understand why Appalachians, particularly from the central and south regions, would vote Republican; and
  • those who try to imprint their own ideals on Appalachians to push an agenda that has little to do with helping Appalachians.

There seems to be no middle ground when it comes to Appalachia. People either believe these folks are ignorant, gun-toting rednecks who hate everybody who isn’t white, or these folks are salt-of-the-earth, blue collar workers without whom the country couldn’t function so let’s just leave them alone.

The problem is that neither of those archetypes describes the Appalachia that I know.

The Questions My Friends Ask

When I set out to write So Far Appalachia, I had in mind that I wanted to address the stark dichotomy between how Democrats and Republicans viewed the region. 

My friends on the Left couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea that Appalachians would turn away help from the government, and my friends on the Right believed that the Appalachian disdain for the government meant they were free-market Libertarians who wanted nothing more than all social structures to go away.

Whenever I’d finish conversations on the subject, my friends on the Left seemed to believe I was a neocon zealot and my friends on the Right seemed to believe I was one step away from a socialist.

I realized within those conversations there was a question I needed to explore: Why is Appalachia the way that it is?

The Four Rails of America

As the book research evolved and as I’ve dug through my family’s history, four themes emerged.

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On the death of my great uncle

“Hello cousin Brad. Just letting you know that Dad died this morning. The last of that group of Bakers. Glad you got to visit. Love Connie.”

The Bakers 2

Visiting Herbert and my cousins in Oregon in August 2013.

I received the text at 9:33 pm last night as my wife and I sat on the couch watching television. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to think in that moment. I’d finally made my way to Oregon in August to meet Herbert, and we’d had a nice visit.

He was still pretty sharp, but it was clear he’d made his peace with the world. “I keep trying to go, Brad, but they won’t take me.”

While there’s much to tell about Herbert, the really good stories will get told in the book. For now, I wanted to share this tidbit because it represents a fundamentally important idea that Herbert and his brothers shared.

In the days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Herbert and his brothers signed up for military service. This included Robert Lee, who was only 16 at the time. For whatever trouble the Bakers stirred up with the government throughout the years, they had long prided themselves on military service. When their country called, they answered.

His mother, my great-great grandmother, would eventually receive a congressional citation since she had 6 boys in the service.

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Lessons from a 100-mile Ultra Marathon

In 2011, I met a woman.

GrandfatherMountain2

Along the bottom of the picture, you’ll notice a light brown pony tail and a black french braid. This will become relevant later on in our story. I promise.

Okay that’s not technically true. What happened was this: I followed this woman up Grandfather Mountain in Boone, North Carolina for about 7 miles as we both labored to finish one of the hardest street marathons I’ve run. After the race I tweeted out my time, and she responded.

We struck up one of those weird digital friendships. We chatted about ultra running, a sport we’d both recently picked up, and we liked pictures of our respective pets. Other than that, we rarely interacted.

I assumed the hallmark of our friendship would be marked by a casual distance and be limited to a shared love of running. Maybe we’d see each other someday at race, but it was more likely we’d be those people who existed in the ether of our digital lives.

That’s not exactly how it played out.

* * *

“I’ve got an idea,” I said to my wife.

“Okay,” she said to me in that voice.

We’ve been together less than two years, but already I’ve come to realize that I make requests that most husbands never make. I’ve gone camping to do book research without her, I take extended writing trips to local cabins, and I’ve flown to see former students who needed me. These are not extravagant requests, but they are not necessarily what marriages are built upon.

This time, I thought my luck was going to run out.

“So,” I said. “I met this girl a few years ago. Well, I didn’t really meet her. We met on Twitter after we ran the same marathon. She’s going to do an ultra marathon, and I told her I’d run a pace lap with her. That would be okay, right? You should come. It will be fun.”

In my head, this sounded rational: I’d drive to St. Louis, pick Juli up from the airport, shuttle her to the Mark Twain National Forest where she’d run a 100-mile race, and then bring her back. Along the way, I’d take care of her equipment, make sure she was okay, and run 1 of the 25-mile loops with her.

As the words came out of my mouth, though, I realized that for most wives this would be a non-starter. I waited for a second as Rebecca furrowed her brow. Then she flashed her cute “stern” face to let me know that this was one of those questions.

“Who is she,” Rebecca asked.

“Well, she’s a veterinarian, and she does beauty pageants. That’s about all I know.”

“Of course she’s a beauty pageant winner,” she said in mock exasperation before telling me that we would absolutely go.

* * *

Rebecca, Holly, Juli, Richard, and Brad on the way to Mark Twain National Forest.

Rebecca, Holly, Juli, Richard, and Brad on the way to Mark Twain National Forest. The best way to get to know new people: Cram yourself into a car for 2 hours.

“I have no idea how we are going to get everything into the car,” I whispered to my wife as we sat at the Starbucks in the St. Louis airport waiting for Juli’s friend Holly to arrive.

When we first agreed to crew, I assumed that it would just be the three of us: Juli, my wife, and me.

I found out soon enough that I was incorrect in that assumption. Juli’s friend and running partner was attempting the 50-mile run, and another friend, Richard, would be a second pacer for Juli.

As everyone made their way to the Starbucks, I couldn’t visualize how the bags might fit into the back of our Kia Soul. Rebecca and I had been aspirational as we packed. While we crammed all of our clothes and gear into one hiking pack, we’d decided to take our large tent, camp chairs, and blankets in case we stayed on site that race.

The back was simply full.

Now we had to figure out how to get training bags, suitcases, running packs, and clothes into a car that was just a little bit short on space.

* * *

Richard and Brad filling up  Juli and Holly's water packs at Mile 25.

Richard and Brad filling up Juli’s and Holly’s water packs at Mile 25.

My alarm at the Super 8 went off at 4:30 a.m., just 90 minutes before the start of the 50- and 100-mile races.

The women wanted to get to the start early, and we had a 25-minute drive from downtown Potosi to the Berryman Trail.

The night before we’d gone shopping, buying breakfast food, snacks, sports drinks, and fruits so that the women could eat and hydrate before race. Pre-race nerves kept much of that from happening. They’d nibbled and sipped, but everyone was anxious to get the day started.

We arrived at the start, which was hidden in the darkness. Thankfully we had about 15 minutes to spare, which was just enough time for me to fill up Holly’s water and make sure their drop bags were in the appropriate places.

In the moments before a long race, runners envision every possible mishap. My job was to make sure none of those mishaps occurred.

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“I carried a deep-seated shame that he didn’t know.”

“The Edge…There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others- the living- are those who pushed their luck as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later.” — Hunter S. Thompson in Hell’s Angels

When I pulled into the Poppy Trail Trailer Park in Beaumont, California in late 2010, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

For much of my life, there’s been a disconnect between the stories I tell, and the life behind those stories. Since I began this project, I’ve increasingly found it difficult to escape from that dichotomy. Worse yet, I chose to handle that dichotomy by constructing the most superficial of stories about my family and its history so that I might more easily pass into new, more sophisticated worlds.

Instead of creating a solid foundation with that history, I found I’d created a weak scaffolding that required more attention just to keep it from crumbling. The net result was a feeling of restlessness. In order to fill the void, I had to keep moving up the ladder, always assuming that the next rung would bring some sense of satisfaction.

I thought those feelings of aloneness were a symptom of the just natural order of life. After all, we are internal creatures, viewing the world around us through a lens that begins in our own brains. No matter where we are, the world we perceive is something that is not us. I’m not sure our brains have evolved in such a way that we ever truly feel comfortable within any setting.

That is how I justified my trepidation, which still exists today. As I’ve traveled around the United States meeting my relatives, I’ve had this deep-seated sense nibbling at my insides that once I entered one of their homes, I would suddenly — and obviously — find myself out of place.

It’s important to understand when I say out of place, I don’t mean more sophisticated. I mean just the opposite. While many of my immediate kin had largely come of age in rural areas before scattering across the county, I had run from that.

The problem hasn’t even been with them. It’s always been with me. Only as I pulled into the trailer park looking for my Great Uncle Robert Lee, one of the last son’s of Bobby Baker, whose murder brought an end to the Clay County War in 1936, did I begin to realize this.

Since the time I can first remember thinking about my life, I had always wanted to go to places that were bigger. In my mind, these shining cities were places of opportunity, and the small towns of my childhood meant slow, certain, and obscure death. This anxiety became more pronounced as I got older, and more than one girlfriend told me that she never seriously considered a long-term relationship with me because it was very clear that I would never take the time to settle down.

As I moved through the professional world, I soon found myself out of place for an entirely new reason.

I found myself completely out of place as attended graduate school at Berkeley, worked at Conde Nast’s Wired, and the the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I’d spent a lifetime searching for the brass ring without concerning myself with the people who might be at that ceremony. Instead of slipping into a comfortable rapport with my contemporaries, I found myself feeling even smaller than I had when I lived in Appalachia.

Distraught, afraid, and inadequate, I fell back on the only identity I knew. I found myself telling stories about Appalachia and little snippets of what I knew about my heritage as a way to differentiate myself. Without the blue-blooded pedigree of many of the people I found myself surrounded by, I turned to the well-worn tale of the country-boy-done-good. I created an identity that was both the truth and a lie.

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On Writing: Why I’ll Be Drunk and Hungover in My Book

“You waking up hungover in jail is right up my alley. The rest of it sounds too academic.”

That’s what Alex Heard said to me during our conversation after he finished reading my proposal. I can’t say I jumped for joy at that critique, but the conversation that followed helped me frame what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it.

“Who are You Writing This For? What’s The Story You Want to Tell?”

Ask me about Appalachia and I’ll start to tell you stories about the people I’ve met, the places I’ve visited, and the personal history I’ve come to know.

I can string together tales, and connect dots in a way that weaves a pretty good tale, I’m told.

The more I’ve worked on this project, though, the more I’ve found myself moving away from that voice. I’ve been adamant that I want to write a book that is big and deep.

I’ve waffled with my voice. I’ve continuously toned down that storyteller within me because in real life that person has never felt very comfortable being around the people who I hope read this book.

It doesn’t matter how much I want to write for The New Yorker and the NPR crowd, I forgot an important rule: Write you.

I’ve spent the better part of my adult life crafting my voice as a writer, a voice that I have come to enjoy when it’s working well and a voice that is — for better or for worse — me. It’s not a voice that’s ever fit in with the type of elite circles I was lucky enough to run around with during my time in journalism.

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