This is a reprint of the letter from the editor in Unwinnable Weekly Issue Forty-Five – check out the excerpts at the end of the post. You can buy Issue Forty-Five individually now, or purchase a one-month subscription to make sure you never miss an issue!
As of this moment, five years of Unwinnable is 3,889,094 readers, 2,533 website stories, 247 contributors, 57 official podcasts, 45 weekly issues, nine Geek Fleas, seven videogames, three GDC bar parties, two Kickstarters, two GDC salons, countless friends, endless memories.
I had no idea today was Unwinnable’s birthday until I got the LinkedIn notification congratulating me on my five year stay at the company. You know, the one based out of my desk. In my house.
This is unexpectedly emotional. I woke up thinking I would maybe just play The Witcher 3 all day. Now I have a lot to say about this and no idea where to start. I am already exhausted thinking about it.
I guess I can start with my dad, Frank. He was, through most of my life, a small business owner. First as an owner/operator truck driver, then running the family trucking company, then as a rebuilder of starters and alternators and, finally, as a maker of specialized custom parts for racecars. As you might imagine, the financial fortunes of the Horvath family had some ups and downs through the years. Dad also worked an awful lot, weekends, holidays – when you’re one guy, you can’t really delegate. He loved what he did, though, and that counts for a hell of a lot.
What I am saying is, to paraphrase the anti-drug PSA, I learned it from watching him.
Working for yourself is a bit like a drug. Having spent many years in newsrooms, increasing the fortunes of other people, to answer to no-one but yourself is intoxicating. Doing so, however, isn’t always easy for the people around you. Sometimes, they just want stability. Sometimes, they’d love it if you weren’t such a self-centered jerk and could maybe just put down the phone for a couple minutes so we can have a real conversation. You know?
I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a few times when I almost pulled the plug on Unwinnable. Every time I’ve backed away from that ledge, I’ve told myself that it is important to keep going, to tell the stories we tell, to get new writers published, to try to illuminate readers and change the industries we cover for the better. And that isn’t inaccurate. I think that the continued existence of Unwinnable is a positive thing, for a lot of people.
But deep down inside, someplace dark, I also can’t help but consider
when I am exhausted
when I can’t write
when my bank account is empty
if this stubbornness is a manifestation of a kind of addiction.
Dad died far too soon and before Unwinnable got going. I often find myself wondering what he would think of it all.
I don’t bring all this up to be gloomy, but to illustrate how difficult this can be. Publishing is hard. Every site out there, every magazine, every broadcast, from the small folks like us to behemoths like IGN, is the product of a daily struggle against everything from diminishing budgets to reader apathy. Getting into this business is foolish. Starting something on your own is downright idiotic. As much as I love Unwinnable, I wouldn’t dream of founding it today, in this market, in this climate. It’s all sharp knives out there.
And that’s what makes the Unwinnable we have so special. When I try to express how punishing this can be, it is to underscore how profoundly grateful I am for all the helping hands and warm hearts I’ve encountered over the last five years. As much as the site is mine, it also belongs to all of you, too.
So, a good number of thank yous are in order.
First, to every writer who ever trusted me with their words and all the artists who have made beautiful things.
Second, to everyone who lent their time and skill to running Unwinnable. Right now, that’s Owen Smith, Steve Haske, Chuck Moran, Ken Lucas, Don Becker, Ian Gonzales, Ed Coleman, Josh Doan, Jay Pullman, Rowan Kaiser and Jason McMaster. In the past, that has also included former managing editors Pete Lang and Rob Roberts, copy editors Sarah Feinsmith and Jen Sisco and support folks like Tomas Li, George Collazo, John “Hambone” McGuire, Aileen Viray, Shawn Dillon, Dave Trainer and Michael Sheridan.
Third, to all the wonderful people who I have met because of Unwinnable, who have inspired and sustained me over the last five years. Among them are: Gus Mastrapa, Brian Taylor, Chris Dahlen, Matt Marrone, Peter Rubin, Jenn Frank, Cara Ellison, Sam Machkovech, Richard Clark, Jill Scharr, Luke Rhodes, Pippin Barr, Teddy Diefenbach, Harold Goldberg, Tom Bissell, David Wolinsky, Amber Harris, Chris Martinez, Kris Ligman, James Fudge. There are more, too many to list and even then I am sure I would forget someone.
Fourth, to everyone who has supported us, helped us and read us.
Fifth, to mom, Patricia, for putting up with this lunacy and keeping everyone calm with baked goods.
Sixth, to Daisy, my fiancée, who had no idea what she was getting herself into, but takes it all with stride and grace.
The first thing I published on Unwinnable was a brief, somewhat cringe-worthy op-ed about taking videogames on their own terms, shrugging off the critical language of other mediums and taking everything involving games in new directions. I called it “We Need New Maps” in reference to a banging Course of Empire song I am sure few people have heard and less care about.
In 2012, I wrote about my dad’s death and how videogames made it bearable. It is a raw story, the words just spilled out. It was the first time I wrote something without second guessing it, without feeling like some shade of imposter. I guess it was the first time I felt like a writer.
In 2010, I had no idea the new maps would lead there.
I don’t know where those maps will lead in the coming years. No doubt it will be as hard and frustrating a journey as it is fun and rewarding.
But I’ll keep walking with you, as long as you want the company.
* * *
As our cover might indicate, we haven’t quite gotten out from under the shadow of Mad Max: Fury Road yet. Amanda Wallace takes a deeper look at the film’s message that “we are not things.” Matt Marrone proves to be terrible at helping survivors of interstellar disasters as he plays Lifeline. Logan Ludwig ponders player agency in videogames – and one particularly evil street sign in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Finally, I put together a gallery of horrific paintings in service of my theory that violent art is the best kind of art.
Email your Unwinnable birthday wishes to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a swell weekend.
Jersey City, New Jersey
May 21, 2015
I killed someone with my Apple Watch. His name is Taylor and, actually, I killed him several times. First, I left him to freeze to death. I told him to climb a giant boulder and he fell off of it. More recently, I just let him walk and walk into the cold, dark, empty distance…until he died.
“The Apple Watch’ First Killer App,” by Matt Marrone
Videogames capitalize on this, building scenarios and worlds where players are encouraged to feel as if they’re in control, the agent of progress within the world of the game. The player is driving the story, controlling the world and pushing forward towards resolution. It’s all an illusion of course, one the player enters into willingly, but it’s powerful all the same. Even more importantly, it’s an illusion that de-emphasizes the creator of the work. By allowing the player a sense of agency within a defined system, it’s inevitable that the player will come to feel, at least to some degree, as an author of sorts.
“The Sign,” by Logan Ludwig
“We are not things” is the mantra of the dispossessed, specifically the “wives” of Immortan Joe. In a world where the strong are those with water, oil and bullets, the wives are his “prized breeders,” property that he can do with as he sees fit. He does not perceive them, even his favorite, Splendid Angharad, as persons. He sees them as beautiful, baby-carrying treasures.
“We Are Not Things: Fury Road and Personhood,” by Amanda Wallace
Slash, slash, slash and the bandit falls to pieces. His head goes flying one way, his right arm the other. Daisy, behind me, says, “Ew. I don’t like that.”
“That bothers you?” I ask.
The bandit’s head gently rolls down the grassy slope of the hill.
“Fine Art Fatalities,” by Stu Horvath