Esoteric Gaming

Extraordinary Feats of Player Practice (in Pursuit of the Perfect Game)



Pristine and K-Mart taking down a baddie.


A couple of years ago, I met someone in the MMO The Secret World who I leveled up with for a month or so. She played a character that was customized to look like K-Mart from the Resident Evil movie series. K-Mart from the movies is a teenaged girl, named after where she was rescued by the group of survivors that Alice joins in RE2. My friend and I didn’t have the exact same schedules (something that can cause problems), so she started to pull ahead in levels, and we eventually stopped grouping. Sure, there was that awkward transition time where, when she saw me online, she’d hop over to my location and help me out with my quests, but that only lasts so long. Maybe I’m speaking more about my own personal guilt and feeling of making someone go out of their way than anything else… In any case, I didn’t want to burn through my social / cultural capital.

Pristine and K-Mart, Float On

I think she wanted to keep helping me because I single-handedly took down a boss in a raid we were on after the rest of the group wiped. It took about 10 minutes of whittling down the elder god’s health, while dodging its AoEs. While most of it is just that I saw how the others died and so learned the fight patterns, I’d like to think that I’m still one of the better DPSers out there… when I’m actually out there, of course…

Anyway, K-Mart and I drifted apart for the next month or so, but we did share our Steam IDs with each other one day. When we later connected through Steam, we discovered that we had a lot of games in common, and we decided to try a couple of more games together.

I noticed, in APB and Fallen Earth, that she still played a character named K-Mart (though her Steam ID was something different) and that she took advantage of any customization provided by the game to make her character resemble the movie one as much as possible. I remember her stating as one of APB’s best features the degree to which you can change up a character’s appearance. (And I found this interesting since I also remember meeting a guy (Jesse?) at State of Play 09 who gave a presentation on APB’s then-revolutionary character customization options.)

Anyway, at some point I asked if she always played K-Mart. Yes. Yes, she does. Whenever possible. This ranges from single-player games to these larger MMOs that I met her in. They range from text-based fan fiction RP through LiveJournal to multimillion dollar AAA 3D games. She was enamored with K-Mart (and the actor Spencer Locke who portrayed her) since she first saw RE2. She was just hitting her own teen years at the time the movie came out (2007), so maybe she saw in K-Mart a role model or someone to identify with more so than the older badass Alice (played by Mila Jovovich). The common features for most of the games she played was that they were set in a post-apocalyptic future and that they were role-playing games. Something about K-Mart’s story of survival, of being part of a team, set in a harsh reality, seemed to really resonate with my friend.

K-Mart as designed

K-Mart’s story is interesting, of course, in its ability to ground gaming practice in human meaning-making, helping us understand gaming as ways of being and making sense of our world, but it’s similar to many stories that come out of gaming. No, what makes K-Mart’s story simply amazing is this:

She told me that she mostly plays PC games because of the better modding options found in the PC versions of games. This is particularly true for Bethesda’s games. Look at The Nexus, for example, to find new quests, new objects, new character models (yes, including nude meshes and textures), realism overhauls, better weapons, better light and weather effects, etc. Things you can’t get on the Xbox version of Skyrim or Fallout 3.

K-Mart highlights this advantage because she wanted to make sure I understood what she was talking about when she tells me that she was making the perfect K-Mart for Fallout 3. When she heard that you could import your own models and textures into the game, K-Mart sat down and decided to teach herself how to do that. She got a copy of Blender and learned it. On her own. Over the course of several months. Just to make K-Mart. And… And, even more amazing is that she did this before even playing the game. She wanted the perfect K-Mart to leave the bunker with.

Think about that for a sec. Here’s a player who taught herself how to use 3D modeling software so she could play the person she wanted to play *before* she even knew if she’d like the freaking game!

Yay K-Mart!

Welcome to the first post for Esoteric Gaming.


Mark Chen is an independent games researcher and designer and part-time professor of games and learning, qualitative research, and games studies. He is also the director of Pepperdine University’s Gameful Design Lab where he promotes social change, activism, and personal agency through the development of expertise in gaming practice and game design. He earned a PhD in Learning Sciences/Educational Technology from the University of Washington and a BA in Studio Art from Reed College. In a previous life, Mark was a webmaster and game designer for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Mark wants a die-cast 1st generation Soundwave for Christmas. You can read more about Mark on his blog at and reach him @mcdanger

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