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Last month, I took my wife to Niagara Falls for the first time.

She had been living in the U.S. since February 2013, but we never had the time to make the trip.

She contacted a friend she had known in Lebanon (now married and living in Toronto) to see if her and her husband would want to meet us there.

They did and we agreed on a Saturday.

In making the 1.5 hour drive from Rochester, NY to Niagara Falls, we stopped off at a small gas station in Buffalo.

The attendant happened to be Lebanese as well and we discussed the old country and continued to the border.

The United States’ side of Niagara Falls is underdeveloped, industrial, and claustrophobic.

It is a place stuck in fading.

The American side of the falls, however, is beautiful.

But I enjoy the Canadian side more.

It doesn’t carry the smell of a stale and silent narrative.

It is dynamic.

On going through the border into Canada, the border guard asked me what I was there for, how long I was staying, where I lived, whose car I was driving.

After answering, he let us through.

We spent the day walking around, taking pictures of the falls, talking about the politics of Toronto.

My wife was happy to see her friend.

Around 3 pm, we all decided to say good-bye and head back home.

I was anxious.

I was anxious at reentering the United States.

I hated the American border guards. I hated their tactics of intimidation, their passive insistence of guilt.

Car parked in line to cross, my gut all wrapped up.

My turn came and I pulled up:

Me: “Hi…”
BG: “Passport and identification please.”

I hand my passport and wife’s green card.

BG: “How long were you in Canada?”
Me: “Just for the day.”
BG: “What were you doing?”
Me: “Just visiting the falls.”
BG: “What is your relation to her?”

She points to my wife.

Me: “She is my wife.”
BG: “Where were you born?” (addressing wife)
Wife: “Cote d’Ivoire.”
BG: “Where do you live?”
Me: “Rochester, New York.”
BG: “Whose car is this? Why does it have Wisconsin plates?”
Me: “My brother’s, he lives in Wisconsin.”
BG: “Where’s your brother?”
Me: “Lebanon.”
BG: “Why are you driving his car?”
Me: “He’s letting me borrow it.”
BG: “Why is he in Lebanon?”
Me: “Visiting family.”
BG: “With all the stuff that’s going on?!”
Me: “It’s actually not that dangerous there.”
BG: “Let me see the registration for the vehicle.”

Here I shrug, I don’t know where the registration is. I check the glove box and hand her the first paper I find.

BG: “Uh, this is the insurance, but it does have your name on it.”

I look again. I hand her the next paper. She looks it over.

BG: “Turn off the car and open the trunk.”

She steps out of her booth and walks to the back of the car, opens the trunk, checks, comes back around.

BG: “So what were you doing in Canada?”
Me: “Just visiting the falls.”
BG: “You mean to tell me that you drove all this way just to visit the falls for one day and come back?”
Me: “It’s not that far, just a little over an hour.”
BG: “You couldn’t find anything to do locally?”

At this point I’m stunned at the absurd level this is reaching.

I shrug and look at my wife. The border guard has a sarcastic smile.

Me: “I mean, she has never seen the falls before, I was just taking her to see the falls.”
BG:  “But why today? Why today of all days?”

I sigh and shrug again.

Me: “My wife had off of work and we just decided to come out.”
BG: “OK.”

She hands me back our papers and lets us pass.

I was frustrated and angry.

My wife and I talked about what happened. She said that she wanted to mention her friends, but thought better of it.

I’m sure if we had mentioned them, they would have pulled us over and held us for hours.

I was depressed for weeks after.

I was born in California. I had never been arrested. I work for a federal contractor.

I could not digest what had happened. I still can’t.

But one thing stuck with me:

Why today?

Why today?




America has a fear problem.

Conservatives fear the decay of religious morality and fervor.

Liberals fear a surveillance state being built without anyone’s consent.

The rich fear and deride the poor, no matter what political affiliation.

The poor fear the rich passively and actively killing them.

The middle class fears everyone.

The police fear civilians.

Civilians fear the police.

The world fears ISIS.

The U.S., for the first time in a century, has no idea what it’s doing.

Fear is infectious and polluting.

It drips all the way to the bottom, always seeking the lowest point, and festers there in the dark.

In an environment of fear, everything becomes a battle. Everything becomes difficult.

Everything becomes covered in fog.

And now that fog has settled on the games world.

This past week saw the loss of some very clear, relevant voices in games.

Jenn Frank and Mattie Brice have quit due to an overwhelming level of harassment.

Their removal and silencing is the product of the ‘GamerGate’ controversy.

The ideas GG presents are nothing new.

There have always been concerns, legitimate and imagined, regarding the proximity between gaming media and developers/publishers.

So why now?

Why today?

Because the gaming community has hit a critical mass of fear.

Self-identified ‘gamers’ are afraid their hobby and their core identities are under attack.

Without taking the time to understand, the gaming community was driven into a blind fury over Leigh Alexander’s piece on Gamasutra suggesting that ‘Gamers’ are over.

Fury burning fear as fuel.

It’s tempting to demonize en masse those active in GamerGate, considering the vile, toxic things they have done and said.

Supposing it all comes from fear, supposing at the core sits a hive anxiety about a lack of transparency in something they have emotionally invested in, then what is the right approach?

For myself, this is a difficult consideration.

I cannot approach them even-handedly after the damage they have caused.

After the misogyny, threats, targeting of women in games, elimination of diverse voices in games, too many lines have been crossed.

Their actions have made the gaming community smaller, staler, and more irrelevant to the larger world.

I cannot forgive that.

For anyone who can stomach it, the only way to fight fear is with engagement.

Cameron Kunzelman tried to engage with an actor in the GG hashtag on Twitter and managed to get to the center of that individual’s anxiety and misunderstanding of what’s going on.

It seems like the hashtag has become a repository for any and all anxieties and frustrations for many in the gaming community.

And not every fear and anxiety can be addressed.

At what point does an individual become responsible for his own fear and hostility?

At what point is it no longer the responsibility of others to have to reassure or explain themselves to the individual?

I believe that point is reached when it begins to ruin innocent people’s lives, which is exactly what GamerGate has done and will continue to do.

GG has become like that overzealous American border guard.

They only let pass with ease those who pose no threat to their imagined world and anyone else who might propose something different is interrogated, asked to prove themselves, and, while perhaps not being denied entry, are left feeling intimidated, afraid, ashamed, and guilty of something unknowable.

They pass their fear on.

It drips to the bottom.

And leaves everyone miserable and wondering:

Why now?


Why today?








I joined Twitter in 2010.

I had been unemployed for almost a year since graduation and was eating through the endless time on my hands by looking for work, writing, and reading.

The year before, I developed a larger appreciation for Japanese culture.

For Japanese history, art, literature: Expanding beyond the world of games and anime.

In 2009, Jake Adelstein released his memoir: Tokyo Vice.

It told the story of Jake’s life in Japan as an investigative journalist and the only American to be admitted to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Press Club.

Having turned down the opportunity to work in Japan, I was able to experience Tokyo through his work.

After finishing Tokyo Vice, I spent days finding a way to get in touch with Jake.

Due to the sensitive nature of his work, he had made himself difficult to find.

Scouring the internet was fruitless, so I settled on the only public face he had: Twitter.

I explicitly joined Twitter to tell him how much I enjoyed his book.

I was absorbed by it.

After a few exchanges with Jake, I had no idea what to do with this network.

When I moved to Rochester, I stopped writing.

When I started working, social networks didn’t mean much to me.

Through SRK, I found the Rochester FGC and because of that, after a three year absence, I was pulled back into maintaining an internet presence.

I reopened Twitter in 2013 and saw how much it had changed.

The sheer amount of content Twitter was producing, the amount of access it was allowing.

I understood it better now.

I had been listening to the Insert Credit Podcast since its inception, having been a follower of the original site.

I always felt Tim Rogers understood games and language on an intrinsic level.

I always felt he understood what was necessary to express and understand.

After hearing him plug his Twitter account on numerous podcast episodes, I went on to find him.

I thanked him for his excellent writing. He thanked me back.

I was still buying games from Gamestop and stopped by one day to purchase Muramasa Rebirth.

A child was digging through the used game bin and found a knockoff, CoD-style, console FPS.

As I handed the money to the cashier, I overhear the child pleading with his father:

“I want to get this game because I want to be in the army when I grow up!”

I laughed. I remember dropping lines like that to convince my parents of whatever games caught my eye.

At home, I related the story to Tim.

He wrote back: I could have just downloaded Kokuga for the 3DS and I would never have had to leave my house.

I looked up Kokuga.

I couldn’t believe I had never heard of this game.




Kokuga had been released for a year by the time I downloaded it.

As I have often stated: I have a deep, profound love of STGs and have always prided myself on knowing of the ones that mattered.

I couldn’t believe how I had lapsed here.

Kokuga was not only made by G.rev, one of the world’s last remaining and most storied STG houses responsible for the likes of Under Defeat, Ikaruga, and Border Down, but was also directed by Hiroshi Iuchi: Director of Radiant Silvergun, Gradius V, and Ikaruga.

What makes G.Rev’s STGs different from Cave‘s is that they all rely on a combination of fringe mechanics that push the conceptual identity of the genre.

Cave is a company driven by pure arcade action, overflowing with style.

G.rev is a laboratory.

Ikaruga has color-switching. Radiant Silvergun has seven weapons. Border Down’s levels change depending on where you are shot down.

And Kokuga isn’t any different.

Kokuga is not afraid of experimentation and may be the purest form of G.rev’s vision to date.

The game takes place in an era of war between two nations and the player is tasked with piloting country A’s most advanced weapon: Kokuga, a tank of the future.

This is a game made at the cross-section of freedom and gambling.

The player is left to choose where to begin the game.

Levels are all labeled alphabetically and the general trend is that as levels progress upwards, the more difficult they are.

Unlike many of its famous ancestors, Kokuga is a multi-directional, non-scrolling shooter.

It maintains the verticality of other shooters, but allows the player more maneuverability.

The levels are very tightly designed. Nearly claustrophobic.

Levels are littered with obstacles and embedded/mobile enemy types.

To succeed in Kokuga, the player must be aware of the spaces around them, more so than in nearly any other shooter I’ve seen.

Kokuga isn’t just about dodging bullets, it’s about tactical positioning and resource management.

It’s a roguelike disguised as an action game.

The game takes place on the top screen, while the bottom screen is utilized for selecting powerups.

There are four powerups, assigned at random, sitting on the bottom screen.

Any one of them may be selected at any time to bolster either the tank’s defensive or offensive ability.

Each powerup is limited in both duration and frequency. Once you use a powerup, another one is assigned to the slot at random until they run out.

Burn through powerups too quickly and the boss fights become overwhelming. Burn through them too slow and the player is bogged down by the enemy.

This is a game that actually holds the player accountable for the decisions they make.

This is a game that does a fantastic job at giving the player a simulation of the responsibility that comes with power.

The player is free to decide where they would like to enter the world and after making the choice, they are thrown into closed, tight spaces and forced to fight through swarms with very limited resources.

This transition is seamless.

In a traditional STG, the player is only ever allowed to make micro-tactical decisions that mainly involve movement.

The urgency in classic STGs is filtered through the forced scrolling levels.

Even in newer STGs, urgency is manufactured through inverted mechanics: Sine Mora uses time/time-manipulation. Luftrausers uses a simulation of gravity.

While there is tactical urgency in Kokuga, the focus is more on the broader, more strategic plane.

It is a type of urgency which burns slowly at first and accelerates as the level becomes increasingly difficult.

This is further reinforced by the smooth, calm movement of the tank itself. Nothing feels rushed.

Kokuga’s greatest strength is that it does not rely on only one mechanic.

Even though by releasing it on the 3DS eShop, one may get the impression that this isn’t an important game, it is by far the purest manifestation of G.rev.

One of G.rev’s weaknesses has always been their over-reliance on one main mechanic around which others revolve.

One of the problems with Ikaruga was that after awhile it’s color-switching became so overused that it quickly lost its novelty.

With Kokuga, G.rev have been able to multithread their innovative style, creating a game full of interesting mechanics that fit together in a near-perfect way.

Kokuga’s systems not only maximize the game’s obvious strengths, but give the player a more dynamic experience by broadening their access to choice while throwing in a randomness element (powerups) within already tight margins.

Kokuga is a deep meditation on elegant, immersive, mobile game design.

It’s frightening this game almost passed by me unnoticed.

It’s frightening that it has flown under the radar of so many others.

Kokuga is everything G.rev have worked toward: A pure distillation of their innovative style.

With it’s somber tone, wonderful styling, and mechanical coherency: It is the true evolution of Ikaruga.

A true evolution of G.rev’s experimental precision.