Early in February I started noticing signs around the MIT campus advertising a videogame marathon for Haiti. The Complete Game Completion Marathon would involve several teams working their way through various games for a weekend, and people would donate in support of the effort.
I really didn’t know what to think. It was an odd kind of charity effort, and I had mixed feelings about its methods. I wanted to know more, so I decided to do a feature on the event for GameShark. It was published today.
This was kind of an unusual piece for me. It’s rare that I do field interviews and interact face to face with my subjects, and I have to admit that it felt a little strange to be having long conversations with people whose intentions were so plainly good but whose efforts left me a little skeptical. I felt an ambivalence that they didn’t, and I knew that my piece would probably cast their marathon in a slightly different light than they would. They knew this too, of course, but this is one of the first times in my career that working as a reporter and observer left me feeling slightly uncomfortable. It’s rare that I’m writing about people, you see. Most of the time I’m covering an issue or a creative work. This time, I was observing people doing something they felt passionately about.
That’s part of the bargain, of course. In her foreword to Slouching Toward Bethlehem, Didion remarks that a writer is always selling someone out. Yet you’re also dependent on the kindness of your subjects, and their willingness to let a stranger hang out with them and observe them. But eventually, you have to write about them. And just figuring out what to say means making some judgments.