Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time.
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
Macbeth, William Shakespeare
That’s how long 12-year-olds Sam Masur and Sadie Green spent together the first time they were friends. Sam was recovering from a traumatic and crippling injury, the results of the automobile accident that killed his mother. Sadie was first visiting her sister—a pediatric cancer patient—and continued to return to see Sam, as they bonded over hundreds of hours of video games, collaborating and socializing rather than competing. That initial permutation of friendship couldn’t survive a breach of trust by Sadie, and they went their separate ways.
Their second round began when Sam yelled across a busy Boston subway station “Sadie Miranda Green, you have died from dysentery!” The two gradually feel each other out, Sadie suffering from depression stemming from a manipulative relationship, Sam suffering from his ruined leg and isolation. Focusing on a shared passion for gaming, and linked by mutual friend and financial supporter Marx Watanabe, they begin designing a game together, leading to what will be a lifetime of friendship and gaming built and destroyed and partially reconstructed.
Sadie is a coding whiz, educated at MIT, where she begins an on-again, off-again relationship with one of her professors, a famous game designer. She is the technical brains of the team. She suffers from periodic depression and is plagued by sexism and anger as she fails to get public acknowledgement for her role in the games developed by her, Sam, and Marx.
Sam suffers from a sense of inadequacy. His damaged leg, his orphan-status, his Korean background, and his self-taught coding skills leaves him not only a target for bullying and abuse, but leaves him with a poor self-image. What he does understand is the emotional tethers of the games they develop, though he can’t always feel their grasp in real life.
Marx is the third vertex of the triangle, sometimes supporting one or the other of his partners, as needed. Zevin excels at developing a messy ménage à trois of business and personal relationships between Sam, Sadie, and Marx, pushing and pulling the trio through alliances and arguments, successes and failures.
Throughout the emotional tension of the novel, Zevin takes readers on a playful tour through the nascent world of gaming and game development in the nineties and beyond. Readers familiar with that world will enjoy the occasional wink at real and lightly-disguised game designers, archetypes, and play. Those who don’t know that world will recognize easily enough those nods to the knowing and follow along. Zevin draws a line that extends from the play of children to video games as a means to self-expression, and gameplay as intimacy and community.