November 11, 2008 8:00 AM | Simon Carless
Wow. Ever get the feeling you've been thrown for a loop? I did just that, when I worked out that GSW commenter and erudite game blogger, PixelVixen707, appears to be not just a smart game blogger, but a fictitious front for some kind of damn weird ARG/online story.
Now, I've linked PixelVixen707 on the site before, when I dug some of her game preview work after she emailed me. I know that more people have gradually been reading her over time - I'm actually chatting to another blogger right now who had RSS-ed her site, which deals with traditional game industry critique a lot of the time.
And heck, even Crispy Gamer's Kyle Orland just quoted her in a column. Because she's a good, evocative game writer. But a few days ago, she started talking more about her personal life, specifically the following about her boyfriend:
"Zach works as an art therapist at an insane asylum. I have no problem with asylums: I used to sneak into an abandoned one late at night, when I went goth as a teenager, and believe me, I had some good times and some good scares. But that doesn’t compare to the Brinkvale Psychiatric Hospital. In a nation of wretched institutions, it’s the wretchedest I’ve ever seen."
She goes on to describe getting stuck on the wrong floor when going to visit him at lunch. It's creepy, but actually fairly believable stuff if you're just used to reading PixelVixen, aka Rachael Webster's normal blog. You sort of presume there are art therapists at asylums, after all.
So we go on from there, and to the latest entry, which gets deeper and darker, as it's noted:
"Zach got the Martin Grace case, the biggest one of his career. I can’t talk about it here, both because of patient confidentiality and because, well, what happened this week is something I don’t know how to talk about. Some things happened right here in our neighborhood, in our home, that I can’t explain."
The Martin Grace case? I'm wondering if I'm spacing something big there, and luckily she refers to a site where you can check out the details, the New York Journal Ledger, where she is "currently stuck in the research department", according to an email Webster sent me on September 15th.
But hang on - here's the story in question, and it's pretty bizarre stuff:
"According to the Times story, Zachary Taylor, an art therapist, has been tasked with determining Grace’s mental competency to stand trial. His role at Brinkvale received media attention last week, as his therapy helped solve a 30-year-old art theft and triple homicide."
So yep. At this point, it's worth doing a doubletake, since those stories are more unlikely and interesting than I would expect, and who really works as an art therapist in an insane asylum anyhow, and... heeey! All of the above linked sites, as well as other ones such as ThinkTheBrink.com, appear to be elaborate but, well, pretty much not part of normal reality.
So PixelVixen707 has been impressively and subtly fictional for some time, and it's only then that I go back to the original email I got in mid September, and note: "A friend at Smith & Tinker passed along your address, and it's a pleasure to finally contact you."
Wait, the Smith & Tinker set up by 42 Entertainment founder Jordan Weisman, the super-smart serial entrepreneur who created MechWarrior and Shadowrun and birthed the modern ARG with ilovebees and 'The Beast'. I'm not nearly clever enough to know where this is going (game? interactive serial?), but I'd love to find out...
[UPDATE: Of course, this got posted at the Unfiction forums, and it didn't take them too long to work out what book/ARG combo it's promoting. I have to admit, I'm intrigued now, and may actually pick up the book, which seems like it may be Cathy's Book for an post-teen audience, when it's published by St. Martin's Press next year. But.. it's all a little odd, since the book isn't really about video games at all, yet the fictional character has embedded herself in our community. Hmm.]