It's easy to empathise, because we've all been there, or close. You have your 9 to 5 job, it's a good gig, the work's interesting. Then an amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes along and you have to sneak out to chase it. Grace Kim, as Activision's PR lead for Guitar Hero, was in that spot a year ago in October 2007.
"I was giving so many excuses," Grace said, "I even went to CVS and bought crutches, and pretended I had a fractured ankle. At this point, Activision was getting annoyed. They were really heavily promoting Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, and Guitar Hero for the DS. My boss was getting really upset."
Finally, on the fifth straight day away from the office, she couldn't think up any more alibis. So she quit, but she couldn't tell Activision why.
She was in front of a camera, taking off all of her clothes for Playboy, becoming Miss November, 2008.
"It was difficult for me to come home from the shoot and then write a bunch of press releases for Guitar Hero," she said. "I couldn't tell them I was going to be in Playboy. At that point, I didn't want anybody to know at the time. I hadn't told anybody, not my parents or my friends or anyone."
Before you think, "Oh, what a burden," consider that becoming a Playmate is a yearlong process, from test Polaroid to final publication, fraught with acceptance, rejection, uncertainty — and nondisclosure — in between. The waiting is the world's worst job interview, for either gender. Before you imagine, "What a problem, having the opposite sex want me," think of what it would mean, to reveal yourself as a potential Playboy centerfold in the context of an everyday professional workplace.
Especially — look to your left, look to your right — among a bunch of gamers.
"I love the gaming industry, I really do," Grace said. "It's so cool, and everyone is so passionate, and you get to test out the prototypes but, then, the guys, if they find out a co-worker's gonna be in Playboy ... you know, they're gonna act a little bit weird."
So Grace, 29, is mindful today of what she left for what she achieved. As Miss November this coming month, her pictorial is the fusion of both — a game-themed centerfold in the men's magazine whose women have set the standard for desirability for more than 60 years.
"It just, coincidentally ... it happened — at the same time," Grace said, "and I did feel a little bit guilty. Out of 100 applicants [for the Activision job]there were so many who were better for the job than I was, with years and years of gaming experience, and I was really lucky to get the job."
But to hear the full retelling, her short time with Activision sounds much like a quick and torrid affair, one she loves and regrets, ended by a choice only the heart could make and suffer.
In more ways than obvious.
"I was," said Miss November, "secretly playing a lot of Rock Band."
In fact, the guitar Grace posed with in her Playboy pictorial — by now on newsstands and Playboy.com (NSFW), is her own Fender Stratocaster made by Harmonix exclusively for the original Rock Band. She bought it more than a year ago and brought it to her shoot. And on her data sheet, she lists her six favourite video games. Rock Band is there. Guitar Hero is not.
'When you're working for something you like, it can somewhat kill your passion for it," Grace said. "Especially when you're doing PR. When I was doing PR for Activision and Guitar Hero, it kind of stunted my playing, because I was working on it all day."
Playboy says the timing of Grace's pictorial was not deliberate— Rock Band 2 for PS3 came out last Sunday, Guitar Hero: World Tour is out this coming Sunday. Although she lists five other titles on her data sheet, Grace doesn't really consider herself a gamer, as nearly all of her effort and interest goes into a single genre. "Maybe Call of Duty 4," was the last non-rhythm game she played, "but that was a looooong time ago, maybe like six months. Then it was just playing with five other people online, and I just got slaughtered. I wish I was a better gamer. [2008 Cybergirl of the Year]Jo Garcia is a much, much better gamer."
So her flirtation with games really began with Guitar Hero II in 2006. She's 29, older than the stereotype one imagines of a Playmate, out clubbing from 9 pm to sun-up Thursday to Sunday. Grace, as a fashion publicist after graduating UCLA, found herself much more at home playing this guitar game against her friends. Her nonstop rocking out — admittedly not that great, but still — eventually led her to Activision.
"I had heard of an opening to work directly with the head director of Guitar Hero, so I applied, and I didn't think I'd get the job because there were so many applicants," Grace said. "I mean, a lot of other people are obsessed with gaming, and I only had fashion industry experience, but I also had a lot of PR experience. I was really blessed that they brought me on board. I think they appreciated my passion."
She was "fully in charge of the Guitar Hero account," but it only lasted for about two months. Living in L.A., her girlfriends wanted to go to the Playboy Mansion for the Halloween party in 2007. Grace sent in pictures of herself to get in the door. "The next day I heard back from them, asking if I wanted to be a Playmate."
Bailing on work was easy enough for a one-day Polaroid test shoot in mid-October, Grace said. Three uncertain weeks followed, and then Grace got a phone call asking her to do a full pictorial. After five days spending 10 to 12 hours on the set, Grace realised she had to leave Activision.
"Activision was getting annoyed, and I wanted to keep my job [at first] ," Grace said. "But my boss wasn't happy and I wasn't happy, and being a Playmate is a job. I really wanted to explore that area, and see where this path would take me. And, working so much for Activision kind of killed my love a little for Guitar Hero."
But it would be almost a year before she would become a full-fledged, published Playmate. In a behind-the-scenes video for Playboy, Grace says she had to pretend like she knew how she was playing a guitar. So, yes, she's among those who thought Guitar Hero would teach her how to play for real. "Right after I started playing Guitar Hero, I went and purchased a used Gibson Junior, flaming red, gorgeous, ready to rock out, and I just failed miserably. Someone tried to teach me, and I was thinking I could just push these buttons and become a rock goddess for real. Now it's something I just pop up on my wall as a piece of art."
Her main axe now is a Starpex Obsidian that Peak Products gave her on the day she viewed her published pictorial. (She reviewed it on her Myspace blog.) Grace plays with it in two bands, one's all-girls, and the other is a boys-allowed troupe, because "none of my girlfriends ever want to play the drums."
She owns four consoles, a Playstation 3, Playstation 2, Xbox 360 and Xbox. But — and Sony fanboys, go get a glass of ice cold water for this next paragraph — she only plays on the PS3.
"Really, the PS3 or the 360? It's like comparing a Lamborghini to a Pinto," Grace said. She started playing on the PS3 when a now-ex boyfriend loaned one to her, and bought her own when Sony cut the price to $US399.
Why is he an ex? Predictably, some guys can get insecure when their girlfriend is posing nude. "It's kind of harder to date when you're a Playmate," she says. Most guys immediately consider her well out of their league. But don't give up hope. She confesses having a thing for shaved heads (are you paying attention Fahey?)
"It's just a strange fetish," Grace said, "I have one and it happens to be shaved heads. I like the feel of it, when it feels like peach fuzz. I think every guy looks better with a shaved head. It's cleaner and gives them a harder look —"
And on that note:
Hey, someone had to appear topless in this post.
Photos courtesy PLAYBOY Magazine © 2008 by Playboy.