Review: I <3 San Francisco – Games and the Growing Economy of Personality

[Originally published July 6, 2016]

You can play this game here. I would recommend you play it before reading my review – especially if you’re a fan of Ms. Riendeau’s work – as it’s deeply connected to her characteristics as a writer.


We live in an age of Data, not Facts. Mary Poovey has argued this conjecture quite well – and at length – in her book, A History of the Modern Fact. These are the basics of her argument.

  • Facts are treated as apolitical representations of reality
  • Despite the seemingly context-dependent nature of Facts, they can be – and often are – invoked in a multitude of incompatible contexts, regardless.
    • ) Fact: black-on-black crime makes up for a disproportionate majority of black deaths. This ‘fact’ is often touted by those who believe black people ought to ‘tend to their own flock,’ as it were.
    • Counter ex.) Fact: white-one-white crime makes up for a disproportionate majority of white deaths; however, this ‘fact’ almost never makes its way into the national zeitgeist via the mainstream news media.
  • This is where the distinction between Data and Facts comes into play. Data is a politicized fact – which is to say, nearly every fact. They are often treated as objective pieces of a rationalist puzzle, when – in fact – that’s rarely the case. Things happen – stories are told – and then certain pieces of their broader context are cherry picked and selected to represent a certain argument.

I myself would take this a step further, and say that we live in an era of context. I think this is why – in the particular medium of Games Journalism, as well as many other forms of #Content and #Entertainment – we live in an economy of Personality. Personality is the most intimate form of human context that exists on This Blue Globe. Personality is the currency by which our favorite celebrities – journalistic and otherwise – make their living. Personality is the inevitable response to the broader cultural themes of the 20th century.

This is all to say that Danielle Riendeau’s wonderful little game – I – is a microcosm of the era we all live in. It is a game that succeeds through context.

I use the phrase ‘little game’ not as a pejorative – nor a term of belittlement – but with extremely high praise. I is a game about moving left to right and reading text that tells the story to the player. There are no systems or skill trees or fail states, and it knows this. This is, perhaps, one of the least pretentious pieces of media I’ve ever consumed in my life. It is – brow to bunion – a genuine, heartfelt love letter to the city of San Francisco. You will finish the game in less time than it takes you to make a Digiorno pizza, and – yet – you’ll learn so much more about one of the great figures of games journalism, as well as the city that helped shape her.

It’s simple, it’s sweet. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, and it doesn’t paint with too broad a brush.

I makes wider political commentary – specifically on the importance of San Francisco to the LGBTQ+ community – but, again, all this is couched in the theme of context. The context of the city is important, sure, but it’s all about the context of Ms. Riendeau and her identity.

It’s not even particularly interested with something as politicized as sexuality. Ms. Riendeau invokes her athletic identity. Her relationship history. Her ‘alternative’[1] preferences. Part of what makes Ms. Riendeau’s game so special is its personal invocation of SanFran iconography. She includes SanFran landmarks that she passes and knows as a runner and Queer Person – all in the name of telling the personal narrative. She discusses their relation to her personal identity – her understanding of her own personhood.

So much of what makes Danielle ‘Danielle’ makes its way into this narrative. Her connection with the city. Her hobbies. Her queer identity. On its own, this is a beautiful, heartfelt narrative.

In the era of context, however, it’s something more.

It’s a portrait of a games journalist. It’s a window into the life of a character that numerous people have attached themselves to. I include myself among this number – I found the excellent website, ZAM, as a direct result of Ms. Riendeau. I found Ms. Riendeau because of her killerwork on the dopalicious podcast Idle Thumbs. I found Idle Thumbs because of Polygon’s Phil Kollar – who, at the time, worked at GameInformer. I became attached to these ‘brands’ (*vomits*) because I enjoyed the personalities attached to said ‘brands.’ In the modern era, Personality means more than character – it contributes to a heightened commitment to a medium, be that acting, comedian-ing, or games journalist-ing.

I succeeds on its own, but to say that my enjoyment of I exists divorced of my attachment of Ms. Riendeau’s personality-based content – or that my enjoyment of any other piece of games media – exists divorced of personality based #Content would be a lie. My personal biases elevated this piece above and beyond its objective qualities as a game. It qualifies the traits of a human being whose opinions and writings I enjoy and respect. It helps inform my understanding of a person – a person who I’ve only had the chance to comprehend via words and digital audio.

This game breaks down a layer of separation between myself and The Critic. It helps me understand the data she presents. It helps separate data from fact, and thereby more accurately informs my ability to interpret her works.

We should all be so lucky to have a games journalist like Danielle Riendeau.

Play her game here.

Listen to her voice here.

Read her writings here.

Love games. Love games journalists. And most of all – and I think Ms. Riendeau would agree – love yourself.

I love you too. Have a good week.

[1] Note: ‘alternative’ is a term that means nothing in the broader cultural context, and is often conflated with negativity. I would like to make my position on the aforementioned pejorative connotation of the word ‘alternative’ clear: Fuck that. ‘Alternative’ fucking rules. ‘Mainstream’ fucking rules. So does everything in between. If you’re ‘weird,’ love it. If you’re ‘mainstream,’ love it. Just don’t hurt nobody, and we cool.

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