Home > Loathe at First Sight

Loathe at First Sight
Author: Suzanne Park

 Chapter One

The group of developers gaped as I barged into the almost-empty conference room. The wrong conference room. With beads of sweat on my forehead and upper lip, I panted, “Is. This. Tolkien. Room?”

“Wrong place. This is the George R. R. Martin room.” A thin guy with mouselike, pointy facial features shrugged as he bit into his sandwich.

“We booked this! It’s ours!” His lunchmate, a thirtyish-year-old man with an eastern European accent, glared at me as he stabbed his pasta and forked it into his mouth.

The other two Asian guys in the room looked at me, then whispered to each other in Cantonese and laughed. Whatever they said, I knew it wasn’t She seems very smart and cool—we should cut her some slack and be really nice to her.

I couldn’t figure out where I needed to be, and the meeting started over five minutes ago. I slammed the door shut and kept hustling down the hallway. Sorry! No time to apologize. Could I get fired for extreme lateness?

After a couple of left turns, I found myself on a dark and cavernous part of the floor. I tried to read the name on a door of a nearby meeting room, but squinting and leaning in didn’t help me make out the letters. Instinct led me to flip a light switch, which turned out to be the emergency lighting panel override for the entire area. All our quality assurance team, who happily played and tested games in the dark even on the sunniest of days, screamed as the artificial lights blinded them, like vampires being stricken by sunlight burns.

So many pasty-white, hairy forearms shot in the air, temporarily protecting these men’s eyes from death by fluorescence. So much cursing! So much yelling! As the QA guys adjusted to the light situation, over a hundred pairs of dilated eyes scanned the room for someone to fixate on and persecute. With my feet frozen to the floor like a tree rooted near the light switch, I stood in shock by all the pandemonium I’d caused.

Finally, one of them walked up to me, shot me a look condemning me to a death by a million paper cuts, and turned the light back off with a swift palm strike. I had no doubt that these QA vampire guys would be—no pun intended—out for my blood after that incident.

With nothing left to lose, I asked, “Can someone please point me to the Tolkien room?”

“It’s the corner one,” a cubicle dweller grumbled, pulling his noise-canceling headphones from around his neck and placing them on his ears.

My cheeks burned as I headed back to the reasonably lit section of the floor. I double-checked the name etched on the conference room glass before entering. TOLKIEN. Thank god. After my whirlwind of panic, I took in a deep breath. Chin up, Melody, you’re just as smart and capable as everyone in there. The door, slightly ajar, creaked as I pushed it open. I grabbed the nearest seat, and after hunkering down into the chair with a relieved exhale, my left armrest clanked to the floor.

Ian MacKenzie, the game studio’s CEO, looked at the armrest, and then glared at me. The other ten guys in the room gave me icy stares too. Ian’s inset, cold blue eyes locked with mine.

“Who are you?” he barked.

“I . . . I’m Melody Joo, the new production assistant.” I couldn’t hold his stare, so I looked down at his shoes. Brand-new pair of white Toms. To match his gleaming white, gritted teeth.

Someone’s chair squeaked while we waited for Ian, the company’s messiah, to say something. He turned his cold eyes away from me and gazed at the whiteboard scribble. Holy hell. What an intense stare.

I had only been at this game company a little over two weeks, but I could tell that most people had a visceral reaction to Ian. A handful of people loved him, but most of the staff didn’t. The company’s board of directors had hand selected him for his role because of his gaming industry pedigree. I spent most of my first day at work researching him online: he had been an executive creative director at Shazam! Game Studios and had one hit triple-A title under his belt. He was the creative mind behind Undead vs. Undead vs. Undead, the fastest-growing console game in the last decade, unexpectedly popular in Canada. Yes, Canada. Somehow his third-generation Irish brain figured out what would make Canadians become addicted to this type of shooter game.

Ian had left Shazam! just days before a Korean Canadian family in Calgary sued the company on the grounds that the game was so addictive that their sleep-deprived son ended up with urinary tract disability because he frequently held his pee for eighteen hours a day. The parents filed a lawsuit against Shazam! for millions of dollars. Some industry conspiracy theorists believed that Ian had hidden subliminal messages in the game to intensify gaming addiction, but no one could prove it. When asked if any of the allegations were true in a recent interview by a famous gaming journalist, Ian replied, “What can I say? Gamers can’t get enough of my genius.” Assuming everything I read online about this lawsuit was accurate, Ian seemed like a total asshole.

I couldn’t say too much about Ian’s lucky career success because getting my production assistant job had been a stroke of luck, which never usually happened for me. The board wanted more “entrepreneurial-minded” women at Seventeen Studios, and I fit the profile.

The company offered decent pay, and trying out a new career path in video games was on my professional bucket list. And to be honest, my ten-year high school reunion would be here before I knew it and I wanted to impress everyone. For the first time in my entire life, I was in the right place at the right time, and I carpe diem’ed that shit.

“Damn it!” Ian slammed the dry-erase marker on the conference table. “We need a new name for our studio. I don’t like ‘Seventeen Studios.’ It’s so . . . pedestrian. Let’s start throwing some ideas out there.” Ian repeatedly capped and uncapped the whiteboard marker in his hand. Click. Snap. Click. Snap.

“I thought this was a product brainstorm, not a studio-naming exercise,” said a female voice from the other side of the room. It was Kat Campbell, one of the senior designers at the company. I silently sided with her on this one. The name of the meeting in our calendar was “NEW PRODUCT BRAINSTORM” in shouty all-caps.

Ian said to Kat, “This meeting is whatever I decide it should be. Any other questions?”

Nope, no other questions. This meeting was now a studio-name brainstorm.

And thirty minutes later, all the ideas we had collectively come up with were up on the whiteboard, and they were terrible.

A lanky, freckly guy said, “How about ‘Hemlock Studios’? It’s funny because of its toxicity.”

Ian’s head shook with disappointment.

Another freckle-covered bearded dude wearing a tattered Pokémon shirt asked, “How about ‘Catastrophic,’ with two Ks instead of Cs?”

Ian made a finger-down-throat vomiting gesture. “How about ‘Epicenter Games’?”

As he gushed about how brilliant the name was, I googled it. “Um, it looks like there’s a gaming studio in the Bay Area that already has that name,” I squeaked.

“Okay, so who cares if that name is taken?” Ian’s stare-glare made my arm hairs quiver in fear.

Kat chimed in. “I’m sure their lawyers would. It’s probably trademarked.”

Ian’s icy glare shifted to Kat. “What if we made ours different, instead of ‘Epicenter’ we called ours ‘EpicEnter’? That wordplay takes our company’s meaning to a whole other mind-blowing new level.” He made a head-exploding gesture with his hands.

Changing the syllable emphasis didn’t matter. We would have the same name as another US gaming company, and that violated trademark law.

Ian asked me, “Hey, noob, why are you frowning?”

I stammered, “Th-th-there could be a trademark infringement issue, and—”

He cut me off before I finished talking. “Here’s the problem with people like you . . .” he began. Excuse me, people like you?

“Looking up legal jurisdiction during a brainstorm is stifling and narrow-minded,” he argued. “You’re artificially constraining my creativity and vision! We can’t elevate this company to a higher level if every genius idea gets shut down. Honestly, I should fire you for this negative attitude of yours, but I can’t, because you’re one of the few GIRLS here other than HER.” He pointed at Kat and then went back to glaring at me.

I assumed my days in the cutthroat advertising industry had prepped me for a male-dominated work environment. This place? It might even be worse.

Ian barked at us, “Does anyone else like the name ‘EpicEnter’?”

When no one answered, Ian threw his marker down. “I can’t believe this. Never mind! This meeting is adjourned.” He flung the door open with such force that the door handle dented the lime-green wall. I had just witnessed my first forty-five-year-old man tantrum.

Ian MacKenzie, our company’s visionary, our fearless leader, had just stormed out like a sulky toddler.

Pokémon-shirt guy muttered, “Well, at least it’s Booze Day Tuesday. If anyone needs me, I’ll be at the beer cart.” He slung his computer bag on his shoulder and left the room.

Yes. At least we had that.

Welcome to the gaming industry, Melody Joo.

Chapter Two

The battering rain made crossing the 520 bridge a nearly impossible task. Even on the highest setting, my windshield wipers couldn’t seem to keep up with the buckets of water dumped from the sky. I had lived in Seattle for a couple of years, and while the rain and dreary weather got me down at first, I didn’t really mind it anymore. I grew up in Nashville, but went to college in the Midwest and stayed there for nearly seven years. My slight Chicago snobbery had worn off (or was washed away) and I loved my life here. With its outdoor beauty, amazing restaurants, and laid-back lifestyle, this city had grown on me.

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