Feature Editorial: The Atari Unearthing Was Decadent and Depraved

Feature Editorial: The Atari Unearthing Was Decadent and Depraved


This editorial has been the literal albatross around my neck, the millstone grinding me into tiny pieces of insignificance as I wallow away beneath the floors of the Acagameia Offices. It was my own fault, really. Announcing the subject of an editorial before even trying to write the editorial? Oh Tim, you cad, you teasing fop! You were so confident then! And after I began sprinting for the finish line, full of hopes and dreams and aspirations of a deep and thoughtful examination about why Leigh Alexander’s stupendously great fiction “The Unearthing” appealed to me, my sudden inability to construct any meaningful thoughts leaped onto the racetrack with a baseball bat and kneecapped me. It beat me up, my friends. So I can’t really promise a visceral or thoughtful reflection- the time has really passed for anything so raw or feral. If I hadn’t announced this editorial it would have ended up in the pile of attempted ideas- not bad, but not really working, either. Perhaps you’ll see why as you read- but I hope we’ll embark on this journey with at least a preemptive understanding: this was an article written under duress.


In the Spring of 1970, Hunter S. Thompson pitched the idea of covering the Kentucky Derby to his editor at Scanlan’s Monthly, a short-lived countercultural magazine. Now, he did this three days before the Derby itself was to be held but, thankfully, the editor approved the story and sent Thompson back to his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. What resulted was the article which cemented Thompson’s style: “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” a booze-filled romp that successfully skewered and delved into the Kentucky Derby…so long as one wasn’t reading to actually find out about the Derby itself. Instead, Thompson’s article spun the telescope around, focusing on the people who attended the festivities (or veritable bacchanal, in more accurate prose) surrounding the Derby. Rather than learn about the Horses (whose names we only learn with regards to who Thompson and his artist, Ralph Steadman bet and subsequently lost money on) we learn about Jimbo, the Texan who is convinced by Thompson that the Derby will be the site of a massive riot between Black Panthers and the National Guard. We learn about the time Thompson maced a restaurant full of people. We learn about the vomit, the whiskey, the breakfast- Thompson’s article supplanted the act of telling us what happened at the Derby with giving us the experience of being at the Derby.

Theoretically, at least. Much of his article reads like fiction, though he apparently really maced the restaurant.

Much in the same way, Leigh Alexander (heretofore referred to as “The Immortal and Utterly Badass Leigh Alexander, or TIUBLA”) spins the focus of the Atari Unearthing from the act itself onto the culture that found meaning in it. It is a piece of fiction, but “The Unearthing” waxes out more reality about the awkward state of video games culture than most “objective” and researched pieces that are published nowadays. The characters that she chooses to populate the story each carry within themselves enough truths to resonate strongly with readers, and often in different ways. In my reading, I was enamored by the way the narrator embodied that chic dismissiveness that’s so popular among some in the gaming community nowadays, the way Leigh Alexander managed to nail not only a lot of the inner justification and self-righteousness that backs up such judgmental behavior (or, at least, I recognized them as the inner thoughts that drove my own mind when I subscribed to that behavior)- culminating in a stone-cold call out by the object of the narrator’s affection for what such attitudes simply are: mean-spirited. That the youth calling out the experienced narrator’s behavior  was itself a restatement of an earlier judgment by the narrator – when she observed “…the huge gulf between a game person’s apparent age and the child-like way in which they carry themselves”- just tickles what bit of conscious writer is left in me.

But this isn’t the only thing going on here. One of our commentators (who is an amazing writer in their own right, if their comment didn’t tip you off) picked up on the gender themes that ran through the piece. I won’t try to touch that reading, because I don’t have the knowledge, perspective, or confidence to do it any justice, but I highly recommend any interested parties just go back and read the comment itself. I’ll wait…
…The point, though, is that such a theme is prescient considering we are still in the midst of a cultural free-for-all for the right to recognize that people other than white boysmen are capable of being wooed by video game companies. Well, okay, prescient isn’t probably the right word- this is a fight that’s been going on for years, with Leigh Alexander being a very active part of at times.

But, again, for me the resonating part of the story is the fight against allowing faux-maturity- that slick, Tino Gentle-style I’m-too-cool-for-this-stuff attitude that fueled the narrator every time that exasperatingly declared that they needed to get a real job (italics mine)- threaten to subsume and corrupt the genuine joy that comes from playing games. Leigh acknowledges “how much love…that kind of skepticism takes,” but it struck me that the narrator seemed to have been paying quite the toll for that variation of love. I’m sure that’s my privilege talking -I don’t have to be in a constant state of fighting to see a medium I love reflect me, as a straight white male. But the fact that this article- this piece of short fiction, written by an author who hadn’t been to the event it was ostensibly named for, carried a more resonating mirror (if the twitter response from games critics and, well, general public is any indication) than the research-heavy article published by Polygon, well, I thought that was super cool.


So there it is. The terrible, unedited (well, edited, but certainly published before I would have liked) article that, hopefully, will represent the worst of my days. Let’s blame it on the sickness, on the hubris of believing I could write an article easily without sketching out, say, a point first. I flew too close to the sun, my friends! Utilize me as a warning symbol, a carcass in a gibbet along the road that every blogger must pass.

But also feel free to offer your own critiques and thoughts in the comments below!

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