Something Incredible

Seven years.

That’s a long time.

As I sat here to gather my thoughts on beginning my seventh year as Indie Gamer Chick, that number kept hitting me. Has it really been that long already? My brain refused to process this information to such a degree that I ended up counting the years from 2011 to today convinced that I simply had to be wrong about the fundamentals of mathematics this entire time. “4.. 5.. 6.. huh, I guess it really is seven.”

It sounds almost wrong. I mean, seven years? That’s how old I was when my parents bought me my first game console, an original PlayStation, for Christmas in 1996. I don’t know. It just seems like the number should feel longer ago. Hell, there were already three Transformers movies when I opened IGC. Then again, Green Lantern had also just come out and that feels like a lifetime ago.

Time is weird. The perception of time. The way it messes with your head. I remember like it was yesterday the moment when Brian and I were going through games on my Xbox 360 and he asked me why Breath of Death VII’s “box art” looked different. It’s what set in motion the creation of Indie Gamer Chick. And yet, I look at some of my reviews from just three or four years ago and I’m like “when the Hell did I write THIS this review?” Given my less than stellar level of review productivity over the last few years, it seems hard to believe that I’ve cranked out over six-hundred reviews and editorials in that time. Most of those came in the first three years.

The vast majority of people who recognize me or know of this “Indie Gamer Chick” person these days probably know me more from social media than from my actual blog. I’m active on Twitter (some say too active) and do my best to reply to everyone who takes the time to message me (for some reason, WordPress insists I want that to read “massage me.” Hey, if y’all want, but I warn you, I’m a bit bony). And that’s weird because I’ve always sort of considered Indie Gamer Chick to be an exaggerated, semi-fictionalized version of the real me. The real Cathy, without a filter. Maybe Indie Gamer Chick is the way I wish I really was. Quick-witted, confident, secure in who I am. It surprises people when they hear that in real life, I didn’t even start to speak in complete sentences until I was sixteen years old. I’m on the autism spectrum, and it’s super obvious for the most part (even though my particular diagnosis of PDD-NOS is no longer really used). I grew out of some of the more intense effects of that, such as the no-complete sentences stuff, but I can’t even hold eye contact with those I love to this day.

I look at what I’ve done as Indie Gamer Chick. Not just the reviews or making fans (which still sounds bizarre to me. I have fans? WTF?) but moments where I know I made a positive impact on someone’s life, and I ask myself how I ever grew up to be that person. I never was fated to be that. One time the mother of a developer whose game hadn’t caught on, who couldn’t get any coverage, contacted me. I had reviewed her son’s game and gave it the Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval. He’d heard of me but hadn’t asked me to review his game. I picked it out at random to play, and I liked it. I thought he showed great potential. And I ended up talking with him and told him that very few people will make it as top-tier indie developers, but if he was genuinely passionate and loved making games as much as he loved playing them when he was younger, to keep pushing forward. That was in 2012. Today that guy is a project manager at a major AAA studio. And last week he sent me a note saying “you know, I was going to quit until I saw your review.”

Wow.

Seven years later and I still get stories like that all the time. I’ve loved video games since I was a kid. Loved them. When I developed epilepsy at the age of sixteen, I was considering suicide if the doctors had come back and said I wouldn’t be able to play games ever again. I’m not proud that I was, but it’s true. I loved gaming so much that young me couldn’t imagine a life without it.

Being part of gaming? I never thought about that. I never aspired to it. Just one summer day, nothing to do, no new games coming out, and a chance encounter on my Xbox 360 dashboard with one of the two XBLIGs I had previously bought and my life was changed forever.

Seven years later, and it’s still something incredible.

Thank you so much to the entire indie game community. I love you all. Thank you for the best seven years of my life. And here’s to the next seven yet to come.

-Cathy Vice
June 30, 2018

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Six Years Later

Did you know I was 21-years-old when I started Indie Gamer Chick on July 1, 2011? It’s true. I turned 22 ten days later, but technically I still made it in under the wire. I really didn’t think that six-years-later and I would be here, typing this annual tear-jerker of mine.

None of us are the same as we were when we were 21. I certainly ain’t. People wonder why I don’t write reviews very often these days. After all, I was “the girl who saved XBLIG” using sometimes scathing, and sometimes positive in a still scathing kind of way reviews. I’m probably still to this day the person most associated with Xbox Live Indie Games. I always felt I was miscast in that role. That it should have been a developer. And make no mistake: XBLIG produced one hell of a generation of game developers. Guys and gals who lived in the trenches, pouring their hearts and souls into games that would be lucky to sell one-thousand copies at $1 a pop. They were the heroes of the platform. I was someone who consumed their games and shared my opinions on them. Without them, there would be no me. Their lives would have been no better or worse without Indie Gamer Chick. But for Catherine Vice, her entire life is better because she was accepted into a community that she had no business being in.

I know I’ve said this before, but I need to say it again, with tears streaming down my cheeks as I type these words: thank you to the entire XBLIG & XNA community. My life is so much richer for having been welcomed into your world. New XBLIG games no longer are published and their point of sale will close forever in just a couple of months. I am so proud of you all, what you accomplished. I wish more of you had found fame and wealth on the platform. But, there are people today who are millionaires because of what they accomplished on XBLIG, and many more who got their start there that are on the cusp of that level of success. I wish we could come together one last time as a community and toast to their success, because it’s our success too. No development community was ever as united as XBLIG’s. I’ll cherish the memories you all gave me. I hope I did right by you.

I know my aim was sometimes off, and this resulted in hurt feelings. There’s a company called Silver Dollar Games that found a niche in the marketplace making wacky pseudo-games. They were controversial in the XBLIG community because their products seemed to take minimal effort to make, but still got more attention than most XBLIG devs could ever hope for. I had no business calling them out on their business. They did nothing wrong. But I did call them out, and I’m ashamed that I did. People ask me why I don’t take down stuff like the Silver Dollar editorial, stuff I wouldn’t stand-by today. The reason is because I can’t pretend I didn’t do it. I caved into peer-pressure to unfairly call out a group of dreamers who were just trying to make it in the marketplace like anyone else. I regret it deeply to this day, and to Silver Dollar Games, I am genuinely sorry. All I can say in my defense is I’m not the same person I was when I wrote that piece.

I recently started a spin-off site of Indie Gamer Chick: Indie Gamer Team. A place for my friends to mess around with my review format, learn to write reviews without relying on arbitrary scores, and have fun with a fun-but-informative format. And for reviews, my main rule I gave them is “review the game, not the developer.” It’s a lesson I myself had to learn the hard way, by hurting feelings and being too personal when I did my write-ups of not so great games. One of my best friends is Shahed Chowdhuri. He’s actually a big-shot at Microsoft these days, but I first encountered him as a nameless, faceless developer of an XBLIG I didn’t particularly like. While I stand by that opinion (sorry Shahed, it was pretty bad), and there’s never a nice way to say a game sucks (unless you’re IGN, in which case you give it a 7 out of 10), you can be brutally honest without being mean or personal. I did both. This was about four months after I started Indie Gamer Chick, but it was the first time I knew for sure I had genuinely hurt someone with my words.

Shahed taught me a lesson: that there is no such thing as a nameless, faceless developer. There are real human beings behind every game. But, Shahed took my review with good grace and humor. That’s how the vast, vast majority of indie developers handle criticism. After over five-hundred reviews, over half of which were ultimately negative, I can count on a single-hand the amount of developers who I would classify as completely non-receptive to feedback. And I’d still have unused fingers. Unfortunately, “developer takes bad review with good grace” is hardly attention-grabbing. Thus, the public perception of indie developers is that they can’t take criticism. It’s total bullshit stoked by a fraction-of-a-fraction of developers who poison the well. Read my review of Shahed’s Angry Zombie Ninja Cats again. The guy behind that game is now someone whose friendship I treasure. Shahed is an exceptional human being, but his response to my criticism was not unusual at all.

We’re all on the learning curve. Those that aspire to improve on all facets of their life never get off that curve. I’m not the same person or writer I was on July 1, 2011, when I started Indie Gamer Chick. I hope I’m a better person. And if I am, I owe that in large part to the indie game community. You all inspire me to be better at what I do. Not just as Indie Gamer Chick, but as Catherine Vice. I actually didn’t have a lot of friends when I started IGC. If the barometer of your growth as a person is the friendships you grow from the ground up, then I’ve done pretty good over the six years. William, Nelson, Elijah, James, Becky, Jon, Sam, a strangely bizarre amount of guys named Marc/Mark, Jesse, Jim, Shahed, Nate, Tim, Kris, Allen, Dave, Cyril, Kyle, Jeff, Dave, Dan, George, Steven, Laura, Jerry, PSP, David, a different guy named David, Rose (I miss you so much), Matthew, Ed, Jason, Bob, a few guys named Brian that aren’t my Brian, Rami, Gary, Ian, Brooks, Mike, Shaun, Graham, Simmer, Will, Brad, Carolyn, Bill, Jean, Ryan, Jourdan, Amanda, Nathan, and even a guy named Thor (1990 Nintendo World Champion, no joke!) and so many more that if I keep going this will look like one of those “Baby Names” books. I went from no friends to that many friends and more. The little girl who started this blog on July 1, 2011 never in her wildest dreams could have imagined that. They all met a blogger who called herself Indie Gamer Chick. But they all became friends with a girl named Cathy, who is grateful and humbled to tears. I love you all.

And of course, my Brian. You inspire me, and you challenge me, and I love you unconditionally. Thank you for convincing me to do this Indie Gamer Chick thing, and to stick with it, and to be my editor for all this time.

I know I haven’t been updating a lot recently. I’m sure some people think I’m close to being done. But I’m not done. Not even close. I’m not the same person I was when started Indie Gamer Chick. But I am Indie Gamer Chick. For keeps.

-Catherine Vice
June 30, 2017

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