Lydia touched the pearls at her neck delicately, waiting for an opportune moment. The evening’s dinner had gone almost surprisingly well so far– the consommé was finally correctly clear– and she hated to risk the chance of spoiling it. But the topic was too important to ignore.

“Sterling, dear,” she said eventually, as she always began. She reflected immediately upon how obvious her intentions must have been.

“What is it, darling,” said Sterling, striking a wary tone, and not looking up from his plate. Lydia listened to the tinkle of his silverware.

“Well I’ve recently heard,” she said, “I’ve heard, that there’s a quite a very big problem in games criticism.”

Sterling snorted reflexively and shifted to a certain even-handed bass register he used with small children and guests. “Ah. Games criticism. You’ve been reading again, have you?”

“Well of course I have. It’s all over Twitter, you know, and nearly everyone’s blog. They’re saying–”

“Oh, I know what they’re saying,” said Sterling, his fork in the air, “And itall of it– is naturally rot.”

“But Sterling, surely you’ve seen those awful things they print–”

“Rot. Dregs!”

Lydia paused. She knew that she could press the issue and get a little more out of him, or that she might wisely retreat for now and change the subject– to the weather or the sporting news, which Sterling liked a great deal, or how little Mary was getting on in school. Just then Sewell came around, to refill their glasses, a little more obtrusive than he needed to be– still learning, he was.

“I, for one,” Lydia started afresh, “Believe a better approach to games criticism is long overdue and a capital idea.”

Sterling smiled, looking down at the remains of his steak as he cut it with a previously unknown vigor. “But don’t we all, dear? The problem with games criticism–” he raised a piece of meat to his mouth– “has been discussed for ages. The debate goes round and round; people are disgusted with the state of things, others say it isn’t all that bad, really, still others say, ‘we’re the ones doing God’s work, here, why aren’t you supporting us?’”

Sterling’s quick fatalism, while quite smart and neat, unsettled Lydia, and she tucked in her chin while she contemplated a response.

“I’d like to believe that maybe something can be done about it,” she said. “Going ‘round and round’ is no way to have a major artistic movement. Is it, little Mary?”

She leaned over towards Mary, who was sitting opposite her at the table, and who had been silent as usual. The girl was methodically working her way through her peas and for a moment did not even acknowledge her mother’s question.

“Don’t grow up to be a games critic, Mary!” Sterling cried in mock-seriousness. “It’s all sadness and sorrow and privation. And nobody reading your work.” He laughed, deep and slow.

“Nonsense, dear. Little Mary would never do such a silly thing. Now would you, Mary?”

Mary Ashby with her large brown eyes glanced up at her mother and father for the first time the whole evening. What a most tiresome conversation!, she thought. “No, never, mummy,” she said aloud, and set about her peas again.