Who Hunts The Whale, by Laura Kate Dale and Jane Aerith Magnet, comes from the Unbound crowdfunding platform. The novel offers a look inside a fictional AAA game development company through the lens of a wide-eyed new hire with big dreams. It fits the recent trend of novels set in this arena, alongside the likes of Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow.
Avery Paige is a young, queer gamer who has always dreamed of working for one of her favorite gaming companies. That dream comes true when she’s hired as a Personal Assistant for the board members of Supremacy Software. Supremacy dominates the gaming world with its yearly releases in the Call of Shooty franchise. As she sits in on meetings with Rick, Chad, and Edwin—the company’s board of business bros—Avery realizes her dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. She takes matters into her own hands and starts recording conversations and jotting down notes of all the terrible things happening on the inside. She intends to take Supremacy’s leadership down singlehandedly.
Let me start with the good. I liked one thing about Who Hunts The Whale: its message. I come from an industry adjacent to video gaming, and I’ve seen firsthand the sort of corporate fuckery that goes on amidst the dull grey cubicles while the guys in suits make all the money for doing virtually nothing. Based on the accounts I’ve read of recent issues in the video game space, Dale and Magnet get this environment spot on. Both of the authors have experience in this industry, and it shows. The book balances compassion for the people who make the games we love with contempt for the executives who treat them like dogshit. They take time to highlight practically every problem plaguing the gaming industry today: sexual harassment, crunch, releasing an unfinished product, the general world’s view of games as a thing for kids not to be taken seriously, “corporate culture” and “we are a family” propaganda, and much more. The authors have done a commendable thing in packing so many of these issues into one relatively short novel (it clocks in at around 250 pages).
The problem with Who Hunts The Whale, for me, starts here. It’s more message than it is novel. It’s branded as a satirical novel, but it reads more as sarcastic creative nonfiction. The plot and characters are incredibly thin. The execution leaves a lot to be desired. So while it’s a commendable outing in terms of its goals, Who Hunts The Whale is difficult to recommend as a book.
The characters in Who Hunts The Whale function mainly as caricatures. Not a bad thing in theory, mind you. Rick, Chad, and Edwin are exactly the kind of asshole executives I’ve encountered in my time in corporate America. However, none of the characters—even our protagonist—extend beyond a few minor details. Avery Paige is a gamer. She loves to play games. She has dreamed of working for a game studio. These are just about the only things we learn about her in the novel. There’s some further characterization as the novel moves on. For example, it’s clear that she cares about people, and she actively tries to help them through their struggles. Despite this, she’s in a position of power, as the developers see it. She works in the C-Suite with the executives. She sticks around to incriminate them, but that’s hard to reconcile with the fact that she is also the one laddering down their commands to the workers on the floors below.
Similar issues arise with the plot. It’s a firsthand account of everything as it happens from Avery’s point of view. Because there are no deep characters for the reader to relate to, it reads like a disconnected account of the general goings-on at a gaming company. The real character going through the actions is the larger entity: Supremacy Software. Avery’s mission to take down the bad actors within functions as our driving conflict, but the book seems more concerned with simply telling us what’s happening at the company.
All of these issues are bound together by one bigger problem: the prose and format. Who Hunts The Whale is ostensibly told in the form of Avery’s journal and as meeting minutes from her time with the executives. Her diary entries are incredibly long, and they feature full stretches of verbatim dialogue, as though she has remembered every word uttered to or near her throughout the day. The “Meeting Minutes” sections are just more diary entries, recounting her thoughts and feelings during sessions with the executives. I’d have loved to see an actual attempt at note-taking to break up the journal entry sections; it would’ve brought some stylistic flair to the novel. Overall, the prose is lacking. The dialogue is stiff and robotic, with characters over-explaining everything. It reads as really unnatural. The prose is similar. It’s not awful, but it could’ve used some line editing to spruce things up and make the book more punchy in its delivery.
By now, you’ve probably guessed I wasn’t a fan of Who Hunts The Whale. To be clear, I am reviewing it on its merits as a novel. As a message, and as a call to action for the gaming industry, it’s an interesting and unique piece of work. It probably could’ve functioned better as a creative nonfiction piece, but I still appreciate the message within.
Rating: Who Hunts The Whale – 4.0/10
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You had me at Call of Shooty.