Chapter no 45

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

The Advanced Games seminar met once a week, Thursdays from one to four. Sadie did not vary the format from when she’d been a student in the seminar, sixteen years earlier. Each week, two of the eight seminarians would bring in a game, a mini game, or a part of a longer game—whatever could be feasibly programmed, given the time constraints. The students would play it, and then they’d critique it. They were responsible for making two games during the semester.

A difference from when Sadie had been in the class was that 50 percent of the students were women, or at least presented as such.

Sadie laid out her expectations for the class. “I don’t care what programming languages you use, though I’m happy to give you advice about them. I don’t care if you use a game engine—but I think it’s good that you should understand what goes into building one. I don’t care what kind of games you make. Good games and bad games are not unique to a particular genre. There are brilliant casual games made all the time, even though people think of casual games as a lesser form. I play every sort of game myself. There are great games to be made for phones, just as there are great games to be made for PCs and consoles. I don’t expect your work to be super finished. I expect all of us to be honest and to treat each other with respect. It takes a lot of courage to put a game out there. As a designer, I’ve probably failed more than I’ve succeeded. And the one thing I didn’t know when I was your age was how much I was going to fail. Sorry if that’s a depressing note to end my introductory spiel on.” Sadie laughed. “But yeah, you will definitely fail. It’s okay. I absolve you in advance. This class is graded pass/fail, so you only have to succeed slightly more than you fail.”

The class laughed at Sadie’s joke. In the crucial moments that occur at the beginning of any class, she had succeeded in making them know she was on their side.

A dark-haired, dark-eyed girl named Destiny said, “You designed

Ichigo: Ume no Kodomo in this class, right?”

“Japanese title, impressive. With my partner, Sam—”

“Mazer, right?” Destiny was on top of Sadie’s résumé. “Was Mazer in this class, too? I know he went to Harvard, but kids sometime cross-register here, right?”

“Mazer wasn’t in this class. As a game designer, he was completely self-taught. And I made Ichigo after I took this class. The games I made for seminar were a little simpler. It’s a lot to program two games in a semester, by yourself.”

Destiny nodded. “I love Ichigo. Seriously, it was my favorite game when I was a kid. Are you guys ever going to make an Ichigo III?”

“We used to talk about it, but I doubt it will ever happen,” Sadie said. “Okay, so, to go back to Destiny’s first question, I brought in a game I did make for this class. It’s called Solution. Since I’m asking you to be vulnerable, I figured that the least I could do was show you the kinds of things I was making back when I was your age. The graphics are old, but give it a play, and tell me what you think. Bear in mind, I was nineteen, and this was about the best you could get done in 1994 in about four weeks, for no money. Also, I guess I should tell you that the game was inspired by my grandmother.”

Sadie emailed her students a link to Solution.

The class opened their laptops and set themselves to playing Sadie’s juvenilia. Sadie played a couple of levels, too. The game was technically obsolete, but she felt the concept was still strong.

As the kids began to discover the secret of Solution, they made appropriate sounds of outrage. At the hour mark, Sadie called time on play.

“Tell me your thoughts,” Sadie said. “I want you to be candid. I can take it. Let’s start with the aesthetics of the game.”

They critiqued every aspect of the game. Sadie encouraged them to be ruthless, and she found she enjoyed defending herself and explaining the limitations of 1994. In general, the class appreciated the black-and-white graphics, though a boy in a beret asked Sadie if all games in 1994 were

black-and-white. His name was Harry, and Sadie had memorized his name with the mnemonic trick Harr-ay with the ber-et. She would not be Dov. She would learn everyone’s names in the first week.

“No, Harry,” Sadie said, “we did indeed have color in 1994. It was an aesthetic choice. Something I’ve learned is that when you don’t have many resources, you have to be even more rigorous with your style. Limitations are style if you make them so.”

“That’s what I thought,” Harry said. “I didn’t actually think all games in 1994 were black-and-white. I meant, was it common?” Sadie made a note on her class roster: Black-and-White Harry.

“I liked the game a lot,” Destiny (Ume no Destiny) began. “I liked the idea of it, and I like that the game is political. But if I had a critique, it’s that the game is too nihilistic. After you figure out what the factory is making, the game gets…” Destiny searched for the right word. “…well, repetitive, I guess. It should move on to a different part of the game instead.”

“You know, Destiny, you’re not the first person to say that. That’s very astute, and I think if I’d had more time, I would have done exactly what you said. But sometimes, you have to make your game in the time that you have. If you’re always aiming for perfection, you won’t make anything at all.

“Mazer and I were best friends growing up, and we loved playing games together. We were obsessed with the idea of the perfect play. The idea that there was a way to play any game that had the minimal number of errors, the least moral compromises, the quickest pace, the highest number of points. The idea that you could play a game without ever dying or restarting. We’d be playing Super Mario, and if we missed even one gold coin, or got hit by one Koopa, we’d begin again. Yes, we were probably disturbingly obsessive and yes, we had a lot of time on our hands. Anyway, for a long time, I took this idea into the work I did as a designer, and it was absolutely paralyzing.

“You will inevitably bring games into this class that you aren’t one- hundred-percent happy with, and that’s okay. I want you to blow my mind. I want you to do great work, but I also just want you to work.”

A student named Jojo, who was wearing a hole-filled Mapletown jersey, raised his hand. (Jojo from Mapletown—Sadie made a note.) “Nice shirt,” Sadie said.

Jojo nodded, as if the wearing of the shirt had been a complete coincidence or something he’d been compelled to do by forces greater than himself. “I have a question: What did your classmates think of Solution back in the day?”

“Oh, I’m glad you asked that,” Sadie said. “They hated it. One of them even tried to get me thrown out of school.”

“For this?”

“Yeah, people don’t like it when you call them Nazis. That’s what my professor said, and it’s probably good advice. I have never made another game where I called a player a Nazi.”

The class laughed at Sadie’s joke.

“On that note, it’s four. I’ll see you next week. Jojo, Rob, you’re up first. Email your games to us no later than Sunday night, so we all have a chance to play them before next class.”

Destiny hung around in the back until the others had left. “Is it okay? I wanted to ask you one more question, but not in front of everyone.”

“Yes, of course,” Sadie said. “Walk with me to my office. I’ve got to pick up my daughter from the sitter at five.”

“You’ve got a kid?” Destiny said. “That’s cool. I didn’t think anyone in games had kids, because of the crunch hours.”

“Some of that’s changing a little,” Sadie said. “And I’ve always owned the company, so…”

“So, like, all you have to do is own your own company?” “Right. Then the men have to do what you want,” Sadie said.

“Can I say? I’m so pumped that you’re teaching this class? There still aren’t that many women or people of color in the department. And I love all your games, not just Ichigo. I’ve played every single one. Master of the Revels? That game was my jam. I think you’re completely brilliant.”

They had reached Sadie’s office, where the nameplate beside the door still said DOV MIZRAH. “So, this is me,” Sadie said. “What was the question

you didn’t want to ask me in front of the class?”

“Oh, well, I didn’t want to embarrass you,” Destiny said. “When I was playing Solution, I definitely thought it was good.”


“But it’s nowhere near as good as Ichigo. No offense. I seriously respect you so much, Professor Green.”

“It’s okay, I know it’s true. And that’s why I brought in the game. I wanted you to see what I was starting from.”

“I guess the question I had was, how did you get from making something like Solution to making something like Ichigo not that much later? How do you get from there to here? That’s what I don’t know how to do.”

“It’s a long story.” Sadie recognized the look in Destiny’s eyes. She knew what it was to be ravenous with ambition but to have your reach exceed your grasp. “I’m not sure I have a simple answer,” Sadie admitted. “May I think about it and get back to you?”

That night, Sadie tried to remember herself back in 1996. There were three things that had driven her, and none of them reflected a particular generosity of spirit on Sadie’s part: (1) wanting to distinguish herself enough professionally so that everyone at MIT would know that Sadie Green had not been admitted to the college on a girl curve, (2) wanting Dov to know that he shouldn’t have dumped her, and (3) wanting Sam to know that he was lucky to be working with her, that she was the great programmer in their team, that she was the one with the big ideas. But how to explain this to Destiny? How to explain to Destiny that the thing that made her work leap forward in 1996 was that she had been a dervish of selfishness, resentment, and insecurity? Sadie had willed herself to be great: art doesn’t typically get made by happy people.

Sadie wanted to pose Destiny’s question to Sam. He always had an answer for everything, and Sadie had come to see that one of Sam’s gifts was his ability to cast the world—or at least her—in a more generous, flattering light. It was not the first time she had contemplated contacting him. Since she’d been back in Cambridge, every cobblestone reminded her

of Sam and of Marx. But somehow, it felt impossible that a relationship as freighted as theirs could be resumed by simply picking up a phone. She knew he was alive. She often saw his name on group emails from Business Affairs at Unfair, but she had not directly communicated with him since Pioneers.

When she had downloaded Pioneers, she didn’t notice anything about who had made it or have specific expectations for what the game would be. She had been postpartum, fuzzy brained, depressed, and alone, and she had turned to games for comfort, in the same way people turn to food. She favored casual games, the kind of thing that could be played while she was distracted with the business of keeping herself and a brand-new, insatiable creature alive. She had played a resource game about the Old West, a game about growing a tribe of villagers on an island, several games about waiting tables, a game about running a hotel, a game about magical flowers, a game about amusement parks, and then at last, Sadie had turned to Pioneers.

The degree of her investment in Pioneers had immediately been greater than her investment in those other games. The world, from the beginning, had seemed comfortable and familiar, but of course it had: Pioneers had been built using her own engine. If the players had seemed unusually clever, she attributed that to Pioneers attracting people like herself, people in their thirties with a nostalgia for the games of the 1980s.

On the day she found Daedalus blowing the glass heart, she had suspected Sam, but she had also allowed herself not to know. She wanted to play more than she wanted to know. Sadie told Sam he had tricked her, but the truth was, she had tricked herself. It was embarrassing how much that silly, exquisite world had meant to her.

A year and a half later, she could tell the story to Dov as an amusing brunch anecdote, and she realized she wasn’t angry at Sam anymore. She began to feel a tenderness toward Sam and even an empathy for him. He had built that game for her, but he must have built it for himself as well. How alone he must have felt after Marx’s death. How much of the business of running Unfair had she dropped in Sam’s lap? Sadie had never gone back to that office, and she had never thanked Sam either.

A few weeks into the spring semester, she had been in the basement of the Harvard Book Store, where the used books were kept. She was shopping for used picture books for her daughter when she spotted a mis- shelved copy of a Magic Eye book. The book made her think of Sam in the train station, all those years ago. Even though it wasn’t a picture book per se, Sadie decided to get the book for Naomi, who was four.

Sadie and Naomi read the Magic Eye book together at bedtime. “I can see it!” Naomi said.

“What do you see?”

“A bird. It’s right there. It’s all around me. It’s amazing! Can we do another one? I think this might be my favorite book, Mom.”

Two weeks later, Naomi had done the twenty-nine Magic Eye activities in the book multiple times, and she was ready for the next challenge.

Sadie decided to send the book to Sam. She was going to write a note, but then she changed her mind. He would know who it was from.



When Ant was passing through Boston, Sadie invited him to come speak to her class. Counterpart High was on its seventh installment, and most of her students were obsessed with it—for their generation, it was the Harry Potter of games. It was far more popular than Ichigo, and differently popular than Mapleworld. It was the kind of entertainment that evoked youth itself for the person who could remember playing it.

After class, she took Ant to dinner, and they gossiped about people they knew in the gaming industry: Who was embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal? Who was in rehab again? What company was on the verge of bankruptcy? What game’s sequel completely sucked, and had clearly been outsourced to a disinterested team of programmers in a foreign land?

They had stealthily avoided subjects that were too personal or fraught. But over dessert, Sadie asked, “How’s Sam doing?” It had been two or three

weeks since she’d sent the Magic Eye book, and she hadn’t heard back from him.

“The same, I guess. He’s shutting down Pioneers at the end of the year.”

“Poor Pioneers.”

“I’m not sure why Sam wanted to make that game. It was top secret at the company, at the time. Did you ever play it? It was this weird retro thing.”

“Never played it,” Sadie lied.

“Mayor Mazer stepped down from Mapleworld, too. Sam is holding a general election for his replacement.”

“That’s clever.”

“I feel like whoever wins, the position will be largely honorary. Sam’s working on some AR idea, I’m not sure what it is. His father died last week.”

“George the agent?” As far as Sadie knew, Sam never saw him. “No,” Ant said. “The K-town pizza guy.”

“No! Not Dong Hyun. That’s his grandfather.”

“Yes, I think the grandfather had cancer. I know he’d been sick for a while. Sam’s been gone from work a lot. Funny, I always thought that was his dad.”

Sadie and Ant parted in front of the restaurant. Ant embraced her, and before they parted, he said, “I think of Marx every day.”

“I do, too.”

“No one believed in us as much as Marx did. We were college kids until he thought we had a game.”

“So were we,” Sadie said.

“I wish I could have saved him,” Ant said. “I replay that day over and over again. If I hadn’t gone down the stairs. If I hadn’t let him go into the lobby. If—”

Sadie stopped him. “That’s the gamer in you, trying to figure out how you might have beat the level. My brain is treacherous like that, too. But there was nothing you could have done, Ant. The game wasn’t winnable.”

After five years, she could finally hear Marx’s name and not feel like weeping.

She had once read in a book about consciousness that over the years, the human brain makes an AI version of your loved ones. The brain collects data, and within your brain, you host a virtual version of that person. Upon the person’s death, your brain still believes the virtual person exists, because, in a sense, the person still does. After a while, though, the memory fades, and each year, you are left with an increasingly diminished version of the AI you had made when the person was alive.

She could feel herself forgetting all the details of Marx—the sound of his voice, the feeling of his fingers and the way they gestured, his precise temperature, his scent on clothing, the way he looked walking away, or running up a flight of stairs. Eventually, Sadie imagined that Marx would be reduced to a single image: just a man standing under a distant torii gate, holding his hat in his hands, waiting for her.

Sadie got home from dinner around eleven-thirty. She paid the sitter and put her in a cab. Naomi was already in bed, but Sadie still went to look at her, sleeping. Sadie loved watching Naomi sleep.

Sadie was not a natural mother, though this was not a confession one was allowed to make. She craved solitude and personal space too much. But she loved this girl nonetheless. She was trying hard not to romanticize her daughter’s personality. She didn’t want to ascribe characteristics to her that were not truly hers. A good game designer knows that clinging to a few early ideas about a project can cut off the potential for the work. Sadie did not feel that Naomi was altogether a person yet, which was another thing that one could not admit. So many of the mothers she knew said that their children were exactly themselves from the moment they appeared in the world. But Sadie disagreed. What person was a person without language? Tastes? Preferences? Experiences? And on the other side of childhood, what grown-up wanted to believe that they had emerged from their parents fully formed? Sadie knew that she herself had not become a person until recently. It was unreasonable to expect a child to emerge whole cloth. Naomi was a pencil sketch of a person who, at some point, would be a fully 3D character.

Sadie had trained herself not to look for Marx in Naomi’s face. Sometimes, unexpectedly, she saw Sam’s there. Naomi was half-Asian and half–Eastern European Jewish, so Naomi was closer in background to Sam than she was to Sadie or to Marx.

Sadie closed Naomi’s bedroom door, and she walked into her own bedroom.

She decided to call Sam. It was only 8:30 p.m. in California. His phone number hadn’t changed. He didn’t pick up—no one answered their phone anymore—and so she left a message. “It’s me,” she said. “Sadie,” she added, in case he didn’t know who “me” was. “I was having dinner with Ant here in Boston. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I live here now. Anyway, I was sorry to hear about Dong Hyun. I know how much he loved you. He was the nicest, gentlest man in the world.”

She did not hear back from Sam.

A day or two later, she called the pizza place to find out if there were plans for a memorial for Dong Hyun. The young man who answered the phone told her that there was a service this weekend. He didn’t bother to ask who Sadie was; Dong Hyun was friends with everyone in K-town.

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