Last week, Cecilia sat down to interview me. It’s my turn now. From writing about “Smash Bros. Hell” to telling the story of EverQuest’s supposedly unkillable dragon, Cecilia’s focused on telling player story. It’s only fitting we get to learn a bit more about such an awesome reporter!
Heather: Let’s talk about your trajectory going into writing. Was this something you thought that you would do when you are younger? How did you get to Kotaku?
Cecilia: I always knew I was going to be a journalist, but I didn’t know what I was going to cover. In middle school, I met one of my favorite novelists, Philip Pullman. I asked him when I met him: “I want to to be a writer; what advice would you have for someone like me?” and he told me “Write what you know.” Then he got up, said “I have to pee,” and he ran out of the room. I was crushed. It seemed so vapid. But, looking back now, it turned out to be great advice!
My background is in Ancient Philosophy. I studied ancient Greek and Latin in college, wrote a thesis on Plato. It taught me to question everything and refined my desire to write into a desire to report.
Heather: A lot of the work you do has a narrative quality. You write about people. You find the interesting things and talk to the people behind them. What makes you seek out those individuals?
Cecilia: My focus as a journalist has been virtual worlds reporting. I think that, when people are online and acting through avatars, it’s one of the truest forms of self-expression. It’s the person someone fantasizes that they want to be while working at their day job. I think it’s beautiful that there are places where people can be who they imagine themselves to be. Especially people with physical disabilities or people expressing their gender identity or orientation.
I’m also interested in this because, in the past, virtual worlds reporting hasn’t been done so well. An example is Second Life in the mid-2000’s when it was blowing up. New journalists would just parachute into this world and exploit people as sources who are just trying to be themselves, not educating them about journalism. They wouldn’t identify as reporters, or ask consent to quote sources. Something I want to do is approach virtual worlds reporting with the same rigor that journalists approach the “real world.”
Heather: You have a clear passion for these worlds. Are there particular games you’ve played to find form of escape and expression? I played Star Wars Galaxies because I wanted to be Jedi. Was there a world for you?
Cecilia: I started playing Final Fantasy XI in the seventh grade. I played it for many years... and it’s not a relaxing game! It’s demanding and punishing, but the connections that people forged were remarkable because of those challenges. People would stand at spawn points to help noobs and introduce them to the game.
In my leisure MMO time, I haven’t found another game like that. I play Final Fantasy XIV now, alone and with friends. I’ve come to understand more about about people I knew in real-life by hanging out there, going on quests.
Heather: You’ve written about people helping each other in Final Fantasy XI. Did you encounter anything like that personally?
Cecilia: I did have people who offered to help me with quests or give me items, but it’s fraught for women in MMOs. Much like real life, people often want something else in exchange. I learned from an early interaction that wasn’t something I wanted. It was important to me to know I was good at the game on my own merits. So, while I had people who helped me get through areas, I ended up doing that later on too.
Heather: When you approach your writing at Kotaku, what are the things that are important to you? What do you want your writing to achieve?
Cecilia: I’m a reporter, first and foremost, before I’m a critic, a writer or a blogger. As a reporter, my job is to tell peoples’ stories. At Kotaku, my job is to tell people the stories of people playing games, their experience playing them, and who they are while playing those games. I want to find people whose stories have gone untold.
A favorite piece of mine before I came to Kotaku was about individuals who didn’t know they were transgender until they played as an opposite gender in a virtual world. Their time in a different digital body let them find themselves. I got a lot of responses from people who said it happened to them as well. They felt connected to others. I want to share those kinds of stories.
Heather: With that passion in mind, anything else you’re looking forward to covering?
Cecilia: While my favorite topic to cover is virtual worlds, I’m really excited to be covering Overwatch and Super Smash Brothers more. Smash is probably my favorite video game. I won’t pretend I’m an esports athlete, but I really love beating people in that game! I am very interested in having more Smash content on the site.
I’ll also be covering Dungeons and Dragons more. I’m a dungeon master myself. I don’t have as much time to play anymore, but I’m still running some campaigns with people. So, readers can look forward to more D&D coverage.