Goodbye Heather Alexandra, Stealth Ninja And Big Boss Critic

Illustration for article titled Goodbye Heather Alexandra, Stealth Ninja And Big Boss Critic

Heather Alexandra, senior writer and unabashed sky pirate, has raided her last outpost here at Kotaku and is now set to leave us in order to become Governor Cuomo’s head of gamer outreach.

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As is tradition, we will now say mean things about her, or at least some of us will, though only barely, because, well, back-to-back roasting duties are hard work and we’re running a little low on propane. Rest assured, Heather, that even if it sounds like we think you’re cool we 100 percent think you should actually go eat shit.

Nathan Grayson, Senior Reporter at Kotaku

I first became aware of Heather’s transcendent brand of games criticism shortly before we hired her. I’d come across some of her YouTube videos and thought to myself, “Gosh, these are extremely good. This person is about to blow the heck up.” Then we picked her up, and she did. I played no role in Heather’s hiring and had no idea it was going to happen, but even before Heather hit the ground running here at Kotaku dot com, her talent was abundantly evident.

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Frankly, it’s rude how masterful Heather is at her craft. Simply by virtue of writing, she regularly pushed the envelope and forced the rest of us to up our own games. She didn’t give us a choice! She could have at least asked first. But no, she just walked in and redefined Kotaku’s approach to reviews, retrospectives, and event coverage—among a great many other things. And she stood unwaveringly by her principles, always elevating marginalized voices and giving smaller games a chance to shine. Then, when all of that wasn’t enough, she upended the whole conversation around games criticism itself. That’s preposterous, Heather. What were you thinking, marrying all of that to a tireless work ethic and an obvious passion for the medium? Who gave you the right to be so cool?

Oh, and here’s the most fucked up part of all: Heather is ridiculously good at video games. Contrary to popular (or at least very loud) belief, games reporters and critics are not somehow preternaturally bad at video games despite playing them for a living. Weird, right? But we’re not all MLG pros who can smell killstreaks and taste no-scopes, either. Heather, however, may as well be. She shreds through video games like they’re tissue paper. She embarrasses them. It is a truly depraved spectacle. You play games. Heather does a blood communion to them.

Now Heather is leaving. It blows, it truly does. It feels like games criticism has lost (or at least temporarily misplaced) one of its absolute best and brightest. But her new job is rad, so I wish her the best. Plus, we covered BlizzCon together last year. That means we’re bound by the forces of fate itself. Thus, I will end this roast by issuing a challenge to Heather: You, me. Next year. Some crowded corner of the Anaheim Convention Center. There, we’ll finally settle this once and for all. Or, if it’s too crowded, we could also hit up a nearby Denny’s. Your call, honestly. Anyway, text me or whatever.

Gita Jackson, Staff Writer at Motherboard

On my 29th birthday, Heather Alexandra came out to the Greenpoint karaoke bar I used to live by. It’s essentially a hallway where bar style karaoke takes place in a space smaller than most room style places. Heather was the only person from work to show—like a person who was bullied as a child, I always invite everyone at the office.

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Heather is a mild mannered person, but that doesn’t mean she’s meek. She is bold, she has a lot of opinions, and she dyes her hair brights colors to signal to this fact. Heather is a Leo. Heather was an acting major in college. I came to learn this about her that night.

I have a fairly gregarious personality and stood by the front of the stage to cheer on all my friends as they sang. A couple of my friends are in a band, and when my one guy sang David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fires)” the entire room went wild. Then Heather took the stage to sing “Sympathy For The Devil.”

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Dear reader, I was speechless. So was everyone in the room. Heather transformed into a being so powerful I couldn’t look at her directly. People, random people, came up to her to congratulate her after she was done. And, in the most Heather way, she just bashfully said, “haha, yeah, thanks,” as if she hadn’t delivered a Broadway quality performance in a sticky bar.

Congrats Heather. You’re one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. Eat shit, and enjoy your new gig as queen of hell.

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Illustration for article titled Goodbye Heather Alexandra, Stealth Ninja And Big Boss Critic

Mike Fahey, Senior Writer at Kotaku

My favorite Heather Alexandra memory is back in 2018 when I suffered a major cardiac episode that left me paralyzed so she’d have to review Sea of Thieves instead of me. I will miss her ability to spend dozens of hours playing Final Fantasy XIV so I don’t have to. I am going to miss that, not having to play Final Fantasy XIV.

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Equal parts brilliant and controversial, scientist Heather Alexandra is on the cutting edge of genetic engineering, searching for a way to rewrite the fundamental building blocks of life. Over a decade ago, Alexandra made waves when she published a controversial paper detailing a methodology for creating custom genetic programs that could alter DNA at a cellular level. It seemed like a promising step toward overcoming diseases and disorders and maximizing human potential.

Dissent among her peers soon followed. Many considered her work to be dangerous because of its perceived ethical shortfalls, and Alexandra was even accused of having the same unchecked desire for scientific advancement that some believed had caused the Omnic Crisis. In addition, other geneticists were unable to reproduce the results of Heather’s research, which further called her discoveries into question. Instead of kickstarting her career, her paper seriously damaged her reputation.

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Oh wait, those last two paragraphs are Moira’s bio from Overwatch with Heather’s name swapped in, but that’s how I feel, dammit. Heather knows games so well that sometimes I get her mixed up with game characters. Sure, we’ll run with that.

Maddy Myers, former Deputy Editor at Kotaku

Writing a roast of someone whose work you edit seems quite unfair to me. I’ve done it a few times, but in Heather’s case, it feels particularly unfair. I’ve edited a lot of Heather’s long critical pieces, which means I’ve been on the other end of a lot of very deep DM chains about, say, the homoeroticism in Metal Gear Solid, or the piss grenades in Death Stranding. Among many other stories by Heather, I edited all of Heather’s Metal Gear retrospective, as well as her Death Stranding review. We probably would have talked about the homoeroticism and the piss grenades in those games even if I hadn’t been editing those stories. But I also got to see the first drafts of those stories, and to work through them. It feels to me like Heather and I traveled on several very long road trips together. The line between “editor” and “friend” got blurred very often, during those long rides. I’m very happy that now it’s just “friend.” But it was also a blast to get to be “editor.”

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But this is a roast, so I have to say something mean, or at least try. The only really annoying thing about Heather is that every game is easy for her. If you’re playing any game and you hit a hard part, you can always ask Heather for help, because she beat it three weeks ago, and she beat it in three minutes. She will definitely help you. But while she does so, she will tell you that the part you are playing is, in fact, “easy.” But is it easy, Heather? Is it easy, at least for us ordinary humans who don’t have devilishly fast response times? And speaking of which, to whom did you sell your soul in order to find literally every video game “easy”?

I left Kotaku last week, and I already miss Heather. I can still talk to her all the time, so it’s fine. Now I get to do so with the pleasure of knowing that she isn’t about to dump a 12,000 word Google document in my DMs. I’m going to miss those Google docs anyway though. I already do.

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Jason Schreier, former News Editor at Kotaku

It’s been a pleasure to watch Heather grow as a writer and critic over the past few years, and I look forward to one day finding the Rosetta Stone to understand her tweets.

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Kirk Hamilton, former Editor-at-Large at Kotaku

I’m glad Heather is off to start something new, even if it means her Metal Gear retrospective series will go unfinished. Then again, maybe another writer will pick it up after she leaves and turn it into a weird zombie survival game.

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Chris Person, Senior Video Producer at Kotaku

Damn, Remember Heather Starting in August of 2016? That was 6 years ago. It’s really terrifying to contemplate the breadth of Heather’s talent. Really, it’s fucked up. She’s tireless and tenacious and able to do a million jobs that any one person would kill to do as well. She’s a fun and inviting streamer, she’s funny, and her criticism is sharp and humanizing and smart. I’d be livid that she was leaving us, but frankly she’s missing out on the wild world of VC-owned internet media. I wish her the best of luck, and am deeply confident she won’t need it.

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Ian Walker, Staff Writer at Kotaku

I haven’t been able to work alongside Heather for as long as most of these folks, but I was a fan long before I became a colleague.

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Heather is an insightful, no-nonsense writer that can break a piece of art down to its core components and build it back up blindfolded. Her attention to detail isn’t just impressive, it’s dumbfounding. Her passion is infectious. Her criticism is incisive. Heather is one of the few writers in the gaming industry that, I feel, truly appreciates the limitless potential of the medium.

Heather was Kotaku at its best. Circumstances and opportunities may have contributed to her departure, but she has left an indelible mark on both this website and the world of games writing as a whole. She will be missed.

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Zachary Zwiezen, Staff Writer at Kotaku

Oh look, another awesome and talented writer is leaving Kotaku right after I join. I’m sorry folks. I’m destroying this website. But for you to get your Mountain Dew reviews, sacrifices must be made. Wherever Heather goes after Kotaku, I know that place will be super lucky. She’s smart and has a super sharp critical voice. I don’t always agree with Heather, but damn it I love reading her stuff even when I’m shaking my head. However, her new employers might not want to plan out a cool retrospective series with her though, it seems she doesn’t like to FINISH those.

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Stephen Totilo, Editor-in-Chief at Kotaku

Heather is daring, which is the best thing I can say about any critic. She didn’t worry about what the most popular argument would be about a game. She forever remained focused on what was true, what she saw in a game. And she needed, like any born writer, to tell people what it was she found and felt and knew.

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Heather has worked tirelessly for Kotaku in so many ways: writing, streaming, and doing the work of playing the games at the highest level of skill. Less visibly but just as crucially, she rallied our union, motivating all of us as workers to productive action.

That said, my goodness, Heather, we get it about your favorite Dreamcast game. But was Blue Stinger really that good?

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Alexandra Hall, Staff Editor at Kotaku

My main regret? Failing to realize, until just this past week, that I could trigger Heather’s Slack alerts any time I wanted simply by typing “Sonic,” “ROM,” or “Skies of Arcadia.” So today I mourn, not just because we’re losing a great critical voice, but also an equal if not greater source of petty, ongoing amusement.

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Illustration for article titled Goodbye Heather Alexandra, Stealth Ninja And Big Boss Critic

Ari Notis, Staff Writer at Kotaku

Fun fact about Heather: She can write 9,000 words a minute. That tremendous Metal Gear Solid 2 retrospective the other month? Cranked it out in 85 seconds flat. True story.

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Heather’s Sonic-like writing speed also grants her another perk: She’s allowed to procrastinate. Not all writers have this perk, and those who think they do are usually kidding themselves (and their editors). Heather, meanwhile, has clearly committed some dark wizardry because she has fully leveled it up.

“Oh, I’m just in here because there’s something I should be writing,” she’s said to me multiple times, after popping into my office, back when we were allowed inside Kotaku Tower. Fifty-nine minutes later, I’m sitting at my desk reading a brilliant editorial about gacha games. Or deeply personal impressions of an oddball coffee-themed indie game. Or a sharp, funny blog about Final Fantasy VII Remake’s murder pickle. (Okay, fine, that one technically wasn’t written while we were allowed in the office, but it’s just too funny not to share.) And it all reads like prose that’s been meticulously crafted and honed, every word and comma and period fretted over. Heather, share your secrets! It’s like you’ve uncovered the Philosopher’s Stone of writerly powers.

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Yes, no one’s more prolific than Heather—and that’s without mentioning that back-to-back-to-back marathon of massive reviews: Nioh 2, Doom Eternal, and Resident Evil 3. I like to think each of these reviews were also word-vommed out, in fully publishable form, after about a minute apiece.

I jest, of course; clearly, Heather is the hardest worker in the room. Just look at the fact that she’s pretty much published War and Peace on a weekly basis for years. And it’s not vapid hot air. Every word is essential, every perspective unique. As a fan, thank you for publishing awesome stuff here. As a colleague, thank you for making the day-to-day easier, by carrying your weight seven times over. And as a fellow player of Final Fantasy VII Remake, thank you for taking three hours out of your day to patiently explain that bizonkers ending to me.

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Oh, and one note to my colleagues.....................dibs on Heather’s office. That couch is too nice to give up.

Brian Ashcraft, Night Editor at Kotaku

Heather is a fan of Shih Tzus. I am a fan of Shih Tzus. I am also a fan of Heather and will miss her very much.

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Joshua Rivera, Former Staff Writer at Kotaku

For a large chunk of my time at Kotaku (a good web site) I shared an office with Heather Alexandra. This is how we became mortal enemies. You see, it is impossible to share a room with Heather without, eventually, just hearing all the stuff she would eventually write out loud, only with more musical theater references. I do not hold being a theater kid against her—theater kids are already bullied just the right amount, imo—instead, I am taking this opportunity to complain about Heather’s inability to speak more than two sentences without turning a conversation into a discussion of game design.

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Do you know how hard it is to ask a person like that to get lunch with you? I’ll tell you: It’s fucking impossible. You’ll say “lunch?” and she’ll make a noise that you could probably construe as “affirmative” and then she’ll say “the thing about double jumps is” and then that’s it. You’re fucked.

Maybe one day we’ll meet again and hang out, but I swear to the skies of arcadia the second she says something like “you know what, man, Devil May Cry V just really gets combat” I am fucking gone.

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Natalie Degraffinried, Senior Editor at Kotaku

I spent a long, long time—a full 47 seconds, maybe—trying to figure out whether to write this like a grizzled ex-soldier from a B-rate ’80s TV series rallying the gang, or a confused Brit role-playing as a more confused fantasy writer.

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Hopefully, I’ll not disappoint. (Just kidding, I’m not doing that shit.)

I’ll miss the rush of cutting several thousand words from a single page about the color of the stones used to construct Ala Mhigo. It’s wild Heather managed to fit that into a Metal Gear retrospective, but criticism takes us to strange places sometimes. Mad world. I can’t wait to read what she has to say about the best-ever Dreamcast RPG, Grandia II.

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In seriousness, I’ll miss my fellow Sahnic the Porcupine aficionado. Heather is endlessly dedicated to stepping into the power and impact of her words, and games criticism is in a far better space for it. Heather gives a fuck in a world that’s rapidly trying to get critics not to, or to pull their punches. Pull her punches Heather does not, and give a fuck Heather does. Heather loves this shit, and you can see it in every single word she writes. You don’t come by that kind of passion often.

Heather, the care and consideration you brought to both your writing and to supporting the people around you will take you far. Maybe on a motorcycle with swords as wheels. Godspeed. Vrr vroooom, vrrr vroooom.

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Eric Van Allen, News Editor at USGamer

Heather was always a major supporter of Compete. Despite never contributing too often to the site, she was always a force to bolster us and drown out any haters. Heather was also an inspiration—for myself and for a lot of writers—to dive deeper with our criticisms, to further examine our own opinions.

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However, what I will always remember is how Heather plays PUBG. She is extremely good at many different video games, but there was a cold, calculating indifference to the hell she wrought on many a PUBG player. This particular clip below still haunts me; not just the one, two, three sequence of shots that effortlessly fells the poor sap, but Heather’s nonchalant “clip that if you want.”

Illustration for article titled Goodbye Heather Alexandra, Stealth Ninja And Big Boss Critic
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Heather was a great coworker, who I’m certain is moving on to better and brighter things. I’m also pretty sure she invented at least one of my nicknames over the course of my time at Compete, if not all of them. And I know that, should I ever find myself in a Hunger Games-type situation pit against her, I can only hope to never find myself on the other end of that scope.

Ethan Gach, Staff Writer at Kotaku

It’s intimidating working with someone whose knowledge of games runs so deep. No matter what you’re working on or even just casually chatting about, Heather is prepared to generously blanket you with fascinating factoids attached to equally fascinating opinions about them, each of which could be carefully unraveled, if she chose, into a thoughtful video or revelatory post all its own.

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People in games media talk a lot about games, dashing off references and comparisons willy nilly, sometimes with such abbreviation it almost sounds like they’re parroting something half-remembered from an old podcast or even older review. How do they find the time to play dozens of games, whose lengths in hours often drift into the double digits, month in and month out? My sneaking suspicion is they don’t. They try to keep up but their impressions run surface level, immediately gobbled up by the next big thing, forgotten almost as soon as they were articulated. Remember three months ago? Or even three days? Life has increasingly felt like a time-dilated freakshow. The world of games, hitched to the ship of technological progress, is plagued by a similar act of eternal forgetting.

Which makes it all the more impressive when someone comes along who has done all the work and always remembers. Heather has a way of making each slack message, however trivial, feel as if it required a herculean effort on her part. I came to find out that’s not because she makes the easy things hard, but because she finds the hard work in even the easiest things and throws herself into it without reservation. Heather nearly died last fall while working on her now somewhat famous review of Death Stranding. She nearly died again earlier this year when reviewing Nioh 2, Resident Evil 3, and Doom Eternal back to back to back. It’s hard to write a good review. Even harder to write a good one on deadline. Heather managed to write great ones in time for release while remaining generous, impartial, and unfazed and live to tell the tale; spent but undefeated, half smiling wryly like Goku, stronger for it and ready to do the whole thing again the next time an unwieldy blockbuster needed to be expertly fileyed and carefully interrogated.

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Paul Tamayo, Video Producer at Kotaku

It feels like some Heather-ass move to leap off of Kotaku tower from building to building before vanishing into the foggy skyline for this “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” leaving only an empty bottle of kombucha and an empty empanada wrapper behind. Eat shit, Heather. I’m just happy for our editors here who no longer have to deal with 6,000 words on Raiden running with his butt cheeks out. I also look forward to her Skies of Arcadia fanfiction that I will totally pretend to read and tell her that I’ll be adding the game to my ever-growing queue. It’s not lying if I just never get around to it.

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I very quickly got to understand Heather’s brilliance when we’d stream together and she’d riff on silly jokes with me or we’d do Casey Kasem impressions for an hour and somehow get paid for it.

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She’d always swing by my office (lol remember those?) and check in on me or ask if I wanted to go get some coffee. The answer was almost always yes because it meant some time to talk to one of the most brilliant folks I know. She inspires me to be better and consider things I never even thought about. I can’t tell you how much I treasured talking to one of my favorite writers in person on a regular basis and then cracking jokes about each other before getting back to work.

I’m forever grateful our paths crossed during my short time in this hell industry and even more grateful that we became good friends. Well, at least until she yells at me in a multiplayer shooter for being garbage, but that lasts for like 30 seconds before we’re back to dumb impressions again or grabbing pizza once this pandemic fucks off. We might not work together anymore, but we’ll be comrades for life. Best of luck, Heather. Now get your stuff and get the fuck out of here. I’m using your office as an extension to mine.

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Riley MacLeod, Editor-at-Large at Kotaku

One time, Heather and I played Ghost Recon Wildlands together before it came out—I had to play it for some reason I no longer recall, and I roped her into joining me. I am pretty bad at sticking to the task at hand in open world games, and I ran afoul of every enemy before saying “Hey there’s a mountain over there” and rushing off into the bushes, leaving Heather to decimate every enemy on her own. She would swap between having goofy fun with me and being a big serious gamer so quickly it was a little disorienting, and I thought on more than one occasion that I was probably lucky I was sort of her boss so that she couldn’t tell me to git good and boot me from our party.

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Heather brings that same ability to switch from playful to serious to her writing, covering a truly mind-boggling array of games and ideas with precision and care. We had many a long, sometimes heated discussion during edits, as I would pedantically insist on one thing and she would steadfastly rebut me, explaining things in different ways and bringing in even more ideas until we’d turned a disagreement about one sentence into a whole new graf full of ideas. A lot of writers (god bless them) will give their editors a win on occasion, just so we can all move on with our lives, but Heather will stay in the fight. It makes you a better editor to work with someone who’s so passionate about what they want to say. RIP, we never talked about musicals quite as much as I would have liked.

Kotaku staff writer. You can reach him at ethan.gach@kotaku.com

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DISCUSSION

Yep. Knew it was only a matter of time before Heather left too. It’s a shame to see what my favorite website at one time has become. How awful a place it must be to work at for so many people to leave. But kudos to everyone moving on to greener pastures and best of luck to everybody else at Kotaku that deserve better and hopefully will find better opportunities soon.

Really dig the Heather and Paul streams.