Chapter no 27

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

Everyone knew Love Doppelgängers was a terrible title, but no one knew what to call it instead. They had lived with the title for so long that it had almost become good by sheer virtue of repetition and familiarity. It was not, in fact, good. As Sam said to Marx, “Love Doppelgängers is an excellent title if we want twelve people to play this game.” Unfair couldn’t afford that. After the modest performance of Both Sides, Love Doppelgängers needed to work commercially.

The one person who didn’t know Love Doppelgängers was terrible: Simon Freeman, the person who had come up with it. Simon had studied German in school and had an adolescent obsession with all things Kafka. “I don’t think it’s that bad,” Simon said, feeling offended at Sam’s utter certainty that it was terrible. “Why won’t it work?”

“No one knows what a doppelgänger is,” Sam said.

“Lots of people know what a doppelgänger is!” Simon defended his title.

“Maybe not enough people know what a doppelgänger is,” Marx amended Sam.

Sadie thought she’d quite possibly lose her mind if one more person said doppelgänger.

“If kids know one German word, it’s ‘doppelgänger,’ ” Simon said. “What kids are these?” Sam said. “Are they all in AP English?”

“Well, then, they can learn,” Simon said. “We can put a definition on the cover, a footnote—”

“A footnote? Are you kidding? You know what says, Get ready for a great time gaming? A cover with a footnote,” Sam said.

“You’re an asshole,” Simon said.

“Whoa, Simon. Calm down,” Ant said.

“He went to Harvard. He should stop pretending like he’s down with the people.” Simon turned back to Sam. “You’re being perverse. There are tons of cryptic titles in games: Metal Gear Solid. Suikoden. Crash Bandicoot. Grim Fandango. Final Fantasy. They work because they sound cool.”

“But Love Doppelgängers does not sound cool,” Sam said.

“The whole game is literally a love story with doppelgängers, so we should have a title that reflects that,” Simon said. “And people do know what a doppelgänger is.”

“Honestly, I don’t think most people do,” Sam said.

“Well, maybe we don’t want those people to play our game, then,” Ant said, coming to his partner’s defense with exactly the wrong argument.

“No, we want everyone to buy this game,” Sam said. “Simon. Ant. Listen, we love this game. It’s your game, and we completely believe in you as artists. But we want the game to sell a million copies. Do you want to cut off the game’s legs over a completely unsubstantiated conjecture that kids in Montana know the word ‘doppelgänger’?”

Sadie thought Sam sounded exactly like Dov the day he’d told them Ichigo needed to be a boy. She felt a bit sorry for Simon and Ant.

The boys turned to her. “Sadie,” Ant said, “what do you think?”

Sadie knew they trusted her more than Sam, and she wanted to side with them. “I think,” she said, “that Americans hate umlauts. Sorry, guys.”

Simon and Ant exchanged looks. “She’s right,” Ant said. “Fine,” Simon said. “What are we going to call it, then?”

Sam called a company meeting to brainstorm new titles. He rolled out the trusty whiteboard that had traveled with them from Cambridge to Los Angeles. At this point, the whiteboard was no longer white, and its permanent palimpsest was an archive of Unfair’s last five years. Marx said to Sam, “We can afford a new whiteboard, you know.”

But Sam resisted throwing the whiteboard out. He felt it possessed a talismanic power. “Not one that says ‘Property of the Harvard Science Center’ on the side.”

“Well, right,” Marx said. “Even better, then, because it won’t be a monument to your moral turpitude.”

“Okay,” Sam said to the assembled employees of Unfair. “No one leaves until we’ve got a new title. No idea too stupid.” He brandished his dry-erase marker like a sword, and he wrote their suggestions on the board.

Love Doubles Love Strangers

Love Stranger High School High School Love Doubles The Doppelgänger

The Doppelgänger Who Loved Me Doubles High

Couples High Wormhole Love Story Wormhole High

I Am in Love with a Doppelgänger The Doppelgänger’s Love Story Love Tunnels

Dirty Love Tunnels

Dark and Dirty Love Tunnels

Dark and Dirty High School Love Tunnels Sexy High

Dirty Sexy High

Dirty Crazy Sexy High

And about two hundred more titles that were variations on, or de-evolutions of, the same.

“These are awful,” Sam said, after they had been at it for around two hours. “They’re great for a porno or an unpublished German novel about pedophilia, but horrible for a four-quadrant video game.”

During sex with Zoe that night, Marx was still ruminating about titles for Love Doppelgängers, and that made him think about his own high

school years at the International School of Tokyo. Marx had been the captain of the chess team, and the team had gone across town to compete with another high school chess team. (Marx’s school was number two in Tokyo; the other team, number one.) When they arrived at the other high school, they found that the building was almost identical to their high school, but with everything in reverse. The high schools must have been built at the same time and from the same architectural plans. The team had joked that maybe they would find alternate versions of themselves and their teachers in the buildings. The captain of the other chess team had introduced himself to Marx quite formally: “Team Captain Watanabe, I am your counterpart.” He could still hear the Katakana in the way the boy had pronounced the English loanword “counterpart.”

For the rest of their lovemaking, Marx could barely concentrate. He didn’t want to forget the word “counterpart,” but he also didn’t want to interrupt sex with Zoe to write it down. But Zoe could sense Marx’s distance. “Where are you?” she asked.

Counterpart High came out the second week of February 2001 and was an instant best seller for Unfair. By its third week of release, Counterpart High, or CPH, as it was known by fans, had significantly outsold Both Sides, and Marx immediately set the boys to making a sequel. Unlike Sadie, Simon and Ant liked sequels and didn’t see them as a sellout. They claimed that they had imagined CPH as a quartet anyway—a game for each year of high school.

By its tenth week of release, CPH was the best-selling PC game in America. PlayStation and Xbox ports were already in the works, and there was talk of porting it to Nintendo.

By the end of the year, CPH would outsell the original Ichigo.

The staff who had worked on Both Sides were moved over to CPH2. Until they could lease additional office space, Sadie ceded her office to Simon and Ant, and moved down the hall, to share with Marx. When Marx needed privacy, Sadie would use Sam’s office, or she would walk home to Clownerina. Sadie didn’t mind losing her office. She and Sam hadn’t settled on an idea for their next game, and she wasn’t working much anyway. They

occasionally tossed concepts back and forth, but nothing seemed to inspire either of them to action. Sam occasionally floated the idea of making Ichigo III, but Sadie thought that felt like retreat. For the first time in five years, they didn’t actively work on a game.

Sadie was not, by nature, ungenerous, and she didn’t begrudge Counterpart High its success. She felt excited for Marx, her partner, and his ability to spot talent. She felt excited that her company was going to be significantly in the black for 2001, despite the disappointing sales of Both Sides. She felt, perhaps, old. She was still only twenty-five, but until that point, she had always been the youngest in any room she’d been in, and she had derived power from that. Even though Simon and Ant were only a handful of years younger than her, they seemed like they were from a different generation than Sadie and Sam. They didn’t have the same issues she had. They liked sequels! They didn’t care about building their own engines, or who got credit for what, or where a good idea came from. They had been playing games since they were in diapers. Their presence, in combination with the failure of Both Sides, made her feel ancient and out of touch.

Though Sadie didn’t see it that way, Counterpart High was her accomplishment, too. The game had been built, in part, using Sadie’s engine, and Counterpart High: Sophomore Year, would be built on an improved version of Oneiric. The tech Sadie had created was worth more than the game she had created it for. When Marx came to her with the idea to use Oneiric for Counterpart High, Sadie agreed. She liked the game’s pitch, and she liked Simon and Ant. How could she not like them? They reminded her of Sam and herself. Although a difference between the boys and her team was that Simon and Ant were lovers, too. She’d watch them working and would feel a touch of…It was hard for her to articulate what. A nostalgia for something that had never been? An envy at their intimacy? She wondered what it would have been like if Sam had been her lover. It wasn’t as if she had never thought of it. But Sam had always been so guarded—he was a boy, and also a windowless and doorless tower. She had never found his entrances. She had never kissed him except on the cheek or

the forehead. She had, in fourteen years, only intentionally touched him a handful of times, and he had always seemed uncomfortable when she did. And in the end, she had decided she preferred being his creative partner to being his lover. There were so many people who could be your lover, but, if she was honest with herself, there were relatively few people who could move you creatively. Still, when she watched Simon and Ant, she felt that their personal relationship was riskier than her and Sam’s, though maybe it was more rewarding, too.

Sometimes, she would see them at the end of the day when they were heading back to their apartment in West Hollywood, and she would notice Ant carry Simon’s bag or offer him some other small kindness, and she would think, It must be nice to have that, to have someone to share your life and your work with. She had been so lonely in the months since Both Sides had come out. But it was different for Simon and Ant, she decided: Simon and Ant were both men. If Sadie and Sam had been lovers, Sadie was certain she would have been seen as Sam’s helpmate, and not as an artist in her own right. Many people saw her that way already.

Because they had built the game using her engine, Sadie was intimately involved in the making of Counterpart High, and she knew the boys viewed her as a mentor. She had liked advising them, though it was a new experience for her to be generous in that way. It was strange to invest yourself in work that was not your own. She felt a new appreciation for Dov

—for how willing he had always been to share his knowledge and his time, for what a good teacher he had been, if nothing else. When Both Sides had failed, the world had gone so quiet. One of the few people who had called her was Dov, and she owed him a callback. Marx was on the phone, so she went into Sam’s office.

“Brilliant one! I saw the California area code, and I was hoping it was you.”

Dov told her a bit about what he was working on: a new game, and he was consulting for an AI company in Silicon Valley. He asked her about her work, and she mentioned producing for Simon and Ant and how popular CPH was. “It’s to Marx’s credit,” Sadie said. “And to a lesser extent, Sam’s.

They both wanted to use California as an opportunity to produce for other people. Maybe they knew before I did that Both Sides would tank? We’ve got seven games currently in production or postproduction.”

“And many of them are using your engine, yes?”

“Some of them,” Sadie said. “At least it’s good for something.” Sadie paused. “Were you ever jealous when Ichigo started to take off?”

“No,” Dov said. “Not even a little?”

“I saw you as an extension of myself,” Dov said. “I have an enormous ego. Your accomplishments were my accomplishments. You’ll probably think this makes me a monster.”

“You were a garbage boyfriend—” “Thank you. It’s not a lie.”

“But you were a great teacher. That’s what I was thinking today. No one took my work seriously until you did.”

“I just wanted to have sex with you.” “Don’t say that!”

“It isn’t true anyway. You’re exceptional, kid. You know that.”

Sadie paused. She looked at Sam’s shelves, which were a veritable museum of Ichigo history and merch: Ichigo hats, books, comic books, coloring books, T-shirts, figurines, paper dolls, stuffed animals, dishes, rice cookers, cookie jars, costumes, handheld games, board games, bobbleheads, bedsheets, beach towels, tote bags, bath balls, teapots, bookends, etc. There was not a product in the world that couldn’t be stamped with Ichigo’s likeness. “I want your advice about something,” Sadie said.

“Of course.”

“How do you get over a failure?”

“I think you mean a public failure. Because we all fail in private. I failed with you, for example, but no one posted an online review about it, unless you did. I fail with my wife and with my son. I fail in my work every day, but I keep turning over the problems until I’m not failing anymore. But public failures are different, it’s true.”

“So, what do I do?” she asked.

“You go back to work. You take advantage of the quiet time that a failure allows you. You remind yourself that no one is paying any attention to you and it’s a perfect time for you to sit down in front of your computer and make another game. You try again. You fail better.”

“I don’t know if I have a better game in me than Both Sides,” Sadie said. “I don’t know if I can be that vulnerable again.”

“You do and you can. I believe in you. And you aren’t failing, Sadie. Your game failed, yes. But you just told me: your company is succeeding. This is a company built on your technology, your good judgment, your labors. Embrace that.”

Sadie picked up a squishy Ichigo stress ball and she squeezed until Ichigo was buried in her palm.

“Seeing anyone?” Dov asked lightly. “The guy in the band with the pretentious name?”

“Dov, that was a million years ago,” Sadie said. “I haven’t spoken to Abe Rocket in years.”

“Abe Rocket, gross. So, what else is new? You can’t be all games and no play.”

What had she been doing? Working on games that weren’t her own. Improving Oneiric. Endless office meetings about things she didn’t care about. On the weekends (mostly), smoking copious amounts of weed. Playing Grand Theft Auto, Half-Life, Mario Kart, Final Fantasy. Reading Harry Potter or whatever book Oprah had told her mom to buy. Sneaking out of the office in the middle of the afternoon to go to the movies with her grandmother—Freda favored romantic comedies with the misadventures of “hapless goyish blond girls.” Weighing which breed of dog she should get, but not doing anything about it. Googling former rivals and games that had come out the same season as hers. Reading online reviews of her games (insisting that she wasn’t). Generally, obsessively, licking her wounds. What a funny turn of phrase, she thought. Licking your wounds would only make them worse, no? The mouth was filled with so much bacteria. But Sadie knew it was easy to get addicted to the taste of your own carnage.

“My older sister is getting married,” Sadie said. She let the Ichigo stress ball return to its normal size.

Dr. Alice Green, in her final year as a cardiology resident, was getting married to another doctor, not coincidentally a pediatric oncologist, and she had appointed Sadie the maid of honor. Consequently, Sadie and Alice were spending more time together than they had since they were kids. Sadie was bored with the mundanity of wedding planning, but glad for the distraction and the time with Alice.

The prior week, the sisters had been at the stationer in Beverly Hills, looking at Oxford English Dictionary–sized binders of white invitations.

“There are so many variations on white,” Alice commented. “But this white one is great,” Sadie said.

“It’s so different than the myriad other white ones. How will I ever choose?”

But Alice and Sadie did manage to choose a white invitation and then, to reward themselves, they went to lunch at Freda’s favorite Italian restaurant.

“Oh! I wanted to tell you!” Alice said. “I played your game!” “I’m impressed. How did you ever find the time?”

“It’s my sister’s game. Of course I found the time.” Alice paused. “I didn’t know if I would like it when I heard what it was about. But it was so good, Sadie. I’m honored that you gave the character my name. I loved the Mapletown parts especially. I didn’t know until I played the game how much you understood about what I was going through back then. I thought you were just resentful that you couldn’t go to Space Camp and that Mom and Dad essentially ignored you for two years.”

“For the record, I was resentful. I will always regret Space Camp. But Alice? Mapletown was all Sam. I had pretty much nothing to do with it.”

“That can’t be true.”

“Honestly, it was Sam. He made Mapletown; I made Myre Landing.” “Well, whose idea was it to call the main character Alice?” “Honestly, I don’t remember, but I think it was Sam’s.”

“I liked the whole game,” Alice said. “Truly.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m so proud of you.” Alice grabbed Sadie’s hand across the table. “But when Alice Ma dreams of her funeral, there’s a tombstone in the graveyard that reads ‘She died of dysentery.’ You must have put that there for me. That’s our joke.”

“Nope. Sam again. He’s kind of coopted that joke to tell you the truth.” “Well, give Sam my compliments,” Alice said, as she paid the check. Alice always insisted on paying even though Sadie made more money.

“Maybe I should invite him to the wedding?”

Alice was not the only person who preferred Mapletown to Myre Landing. Marx, who followed online discussion of all Unfair’s games, had found groups of gamers who avoided playing the Myre Landing side and only played the Mapletown side as much as possible. They called themselves Mapletownies. Although critics had generally preferred Myre Landing, the gamers had embraced Sam’s work. Marx did not discuss any of this with Sadie—Sadie, of course, already knew.

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