On the 22nd of August, Kotaku welcomed Heather Alexandra to our ranks. On Kotaku, Heather's been producing thoughtful, critical videos about abstract concepts in games for a few months, but now, we're proud to have her full-time as a staff writer. Hooray!
We've seen Heather explore "time" as the scariest video game monster, as well as what "win states" mean in the age of No Man's Sky. Heather's told us about what Ana Amari's unique play mechanics say about Overwatch and why we should like repetitive video games.
But who is Heather Alexandra?
Yesterday, I interviewed Heather about life before Kotaku and games she plays to unwind (Heather interviewed me, too! We'll post that on Monday). Check it below, and say hi in the comments!
Cecilia: Tell me about the first video game you remember playing.
Heather: I distinctly remember playing the first Castlevania. I had a friend who lived up the street from me. He had a Nintendo and I did not. We'd go to his house before we'd get on the bus to school and I'd go into his basement and, on this tiny, crappy CRT, he was playing Castlevania. We ended up doing that every morning. I was so jealous until I finally got a Sega Genesis.
I don't think young Heather would believe that's a thing you could do. I think young Heather wanted to be a ninja.
Cecilia: Now you write about ninjas!
Heather: I eventually got into reading about games once EGM became popular. I had Dreamcast Magazine, which was awesome because I got demo discs which I still play time to time. Even two years ago, if you told me this was something I could do in my life, I wouldn't believe you. I was working at Starbucks.
Cecilia: You worked at Starbucks before this?
Heather: Until about a year ago. I was working quality assurance and game design at a small AA studio beforehand. Before that, I was a theatre teacher for a nonprofit.
Cecilia: I feel like what you're bringing to our team is a really critical view on video games. What's prepared you to have that perspective?
Heather: I think it goes back to my education. I went to a liberal arts college, where we had to take a "Western Civ" course. There were a lot of things like, for my major, I need to take a script analysis class, or film theory. If I didn't have that, I don't know if I'd be sitting down and taking in art as critically.
Cecilia: What does thinking critically about games even mean?
Heather: What a broad question. Thinking critically games is thinking about what games are doing to you and what it's doing in order to be a game. You can think about what the game is doing to you, you can think about what you're feeling or experience, physical or emotional, frustrations, failings. I think it's also structural stuff. After you play games enough, you start to see all the little things that compose them and turn them into a format.
You see the common points. We need to find ways to make abstract life. What does it mean to have life in a game? I have a hit bar, or when I run out of mushrooms, I die.
Cecilia: So, what are some games you like to enjoy uncritically?
Heather: A lot of online shooters. I like to just play Overwatch. For CS:GO, I could sit back and think of like, what's the meta of this round? How much money does each team have? How are these maps composed? What's the language of the space? But I don't do that because, I want to say I'm shooting other people, but they're probably kicking my arse.
Cecilia: Outside of games, what are your other interests?
Heather: A lot of running. In the past, it was beer and wine tasting. So much of my life is consumed by games.
Cecilia: What kind of effect are you hoping to have on Kotaku readers?
Heather: Writing should improve the writer, the writing and the reader. It's about making sure people think. You want people to walk away from a piece that they didn't have before. They can laugh at it, be mad at it — as long as they have left with something they didn't have before. I want to bridge the perceived gap between writers and readers. There isn't much of a gap when you get down to it.
Cecilia: What are some topics readers can look forward to you covering over the next few months?
Heather: I want to look closer at quests in games, the structure of quests. I've been talking with people about game preservation with fan games. We're losing games. We don't talk about that. That's a passion project of mine.