I’ve already written posts on what was my favourite games writing in 2014 and what were my favourite games, so now I should reflect on my own 2014 and link to some of my own work from the past year that I’m particularly happy with.
I did not write as much publicly in 2014 as I have in previous years. I was teaching a first-year course in the Game Design program at RMIT in the first semester of the year, and that took up a lot of my time and energy (and, frankly, pays much better than freelance games journalism). In the second half of the year, I haven’t been teaching but focusing instead pretty obsessively on my PhD thesis, which I’m hoping to complete about mid-2015. This has meant that non-academic games criticism has taken a bit of a backseat this year for fairly practical time-related reasons.
But at the same time, I’ve also found myself fairly exhausted with ‘games journalism’ narrowly defined, even before it utterly failed as an institution to respond to and account for gamergate. Towards the end of 2013 I decided I wanted to stop focusing my writing efforts on game-centric outlets, which demand a very specific set of values and ideologies, and to focus instead on writing for more general ‘cultural’ or ‘literary’ outlets, writing about games for a critically engaged but more populist audience than simply ‘gamers’. That I had decided this at least six months before right-wing pundits started using the gamergate hashtag as an excuse to beat up on any game creator with progressive politics and a non-male gender makes the fact that gaters accused me of disrespecting my readers by being critical of gamer culture doubly amusing.
So this is something I’m really glad to be doing. After writing an essay on Grand Theft Auto V for them last year, I made my debut in Overland‘s print journal in January of this year with a letter to Susan Sontag about games criticism. This is, essentially, the letter I wish I could actually send Sontag if she were still alive, and discusses how exciting and relevant I find her work for my own development as a games critic. I also continued to write for Overland‘s website this year, with a review of Wolfenstein: The New Order and another of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.
Much like my essay at Unwinnable defending Flappy Bird, my praise of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is a reactionary one that comes from a place of frustration with most of videogames’ culture’s inability to value videogame works, be they commercial or personal, on their own terms rather than normative design values. There’s an elitist and certainly a gendered tinge to the dismissal of incredibly popular games that shares more than a passing similarity to the dismissal of personal games in previous years as ‘un-games’. I tried to cover that in this Kim Kardashian: Hollywood review.
Also at Unwinnable this year, I wrote some Notes on Luftrausers for the newly launched Unwinnable Weekly magazine. This is my first ‘Notes’ post published somewhere other than my own blog. Sadly, it is also the only piece I am yet to write from Unwinnable Weekly, but hopefully I will pitch some more in the new year.
Another superb outlet I have written criminally few articles for in recent years is Paste, which has published a significant portion of the most incredible writing on games produced this year (not least of all Austin Walker’s many remarkable essays). In addition to all this great writing, they also allowed me to write about Mario Kart 8‘s superb visual worldbuilding.
I was invited to start a column at the film criticism journal Reverse Shot this year, and I have two columns up thus far. The first was, counter-intuitively, about Netrunner and what it teaches us about videogames. The second was about Desert Golfing as a sort of exploration game. More essays will be appearing on this column in the coming months.
I also briefly sustained a column at The Conversation early in the year for the newly launched Arts+Culture section. It was liberating to be able to write for this audience without being shackled to the Science+Technology section, which is where videogames had previously been covered. Most of what I wrote for this column was, I think, mostly forgettable, but my (quite critical) essays firstly on the mass firings at Irrational Games and secondly on Games Evangelism received a fair bit of attention for being, I think, some of the first dissenting pieces on what were largely covered as positive events (at least for a while). In a similar commentary vein, I’ve written three short pieces for ABC’s The Drum this year: one on e-sports, one on Microsoft buying Mojang, and one on Target refusing to stock Grand Theft Auto V.
One piece I am really happy with from the past year is this one that I was invited to write for the American magazine M about videogames and masculinity. This was a challenging piece to write, as the editor was determined that a common audience unfamiliar with videogames could understand it, something that I greatly appreciate it. I’m also delighted by the really great art that was produced to go with the print version of the story (viewable in a gallery on the above link).
On my own blogs, I continued writing the ‘Notes’ styled reviews that I started last year, and people seem to really enjoy these. These more list-style reviews are incredibly liberating in being able to jump from one idea to the next without feeling constrained by the need to have paragraphs flow together or for the piece to have one, over-arching theme. For getting out all my thoughts on a single game, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing them. I wrote some Notes on Final Fantasy XII before I brought my old blog, Critical Damage, to a close. On this new blog I wrote some Notes on P.T, Swing Copter, Destiny (which I followed up with some more thoughts a few months later), and Alien: Isolation. The Notes on Destiny and Isolation were particularly popular; the former due to the lack of reviews published before the game’s release, I think, and the latter mostly because I think the developers shared it around on Twitter.
I also maintained a secondary blog this year, which has been confusing and probably not the greatest strategy for my #brand. I started my tumblr ungaming, firstly, so I could use tumblr more and actually have somewhere to reblog gifs of Japanese movies I’ve never heard of; and secondly, so I could maybe start writing about stuff other than games somewhere. This hasn’t really happened yet, but I’ve still found tumblr a liberating outlet for posting half-formed ideas and long, rambling, top-of-my-head rants that would otherwise be cut up and jammed into fifty tweets. Here, my thoughts on Mountain and on Netrunner‘s Scorched Earth are probably highlights. I also used this blog for many of my thoughts on gamergate, but more on that below.
This year I also started playing around with video capture. Personally, I don’t find Let’s Play videos particularly interesting to watch, and I find most video essays, regardless of the quality of the content, frustrating as I could just read a written version essay in half the time and without having to pause my music. Despite this, I found making videos and talking my way through gameplay deeply satisfying, and it offered a range of new avenues for analysis that writing does not necessarily allow. My Critical Let’s Play series of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare trilogy was well-received, and I am currently following it up with one of Max Payne 3. I want to continue learning how to use video content in the new year, and plan to try not only more Critical Let’s Play series, but maybe also some more experimental, one-off videos as well. I am using a Patreon page to experiment with funding myself to do this, if that is something you are interested in.
And then, finally, we have gamergate. Ignoring gamergate was impossible as a videogame critic this year. More than impossible, as a straight white male game critic not (for the most part) in the crosshairs of the vile mob that participated (and continues to participate) in the harassment and abuse of woman game creators and critics, I feel I had an obligation to speak out again this violent and revolting movement. At first, this speaking out was more destructive than constructive, arguing directly into the hashtag with those attacking critics and developers. This, I eventually figured out after others told me, is only really using my privileged position in fireproof clothing to fan the flames. Gamergate, I eventually figured out, was something much better spoken about than to. Those that participate in gamergate have no interest in hearing two sides of an argument but only in defending and strengthening a certain, male-dominated status quo, and their logic and position will shift from tweet to tweet in order to defend that position. Talking to those already consumed by the movement achieves nothing. Talking about the movement and all its issues, on the other hand, is an important part in stripping the movement of any guise of credibility.
This is what mainstream games journalism utterly failed to do for weeks after the movement started, choosing instead to stay silent or to only report on the ‘isolated incidents’ of death threats received by various women without a mention of the broader movement responsible. It wasn’t until journalism more broadly (The Guardian, The New York Times, etc.) started reporting on gamergate that games journalism had the courage to discuss it as, explicitly, a misogynistic movement. Ironically, in its campaign to discredit a seemingly progressive institute of games journalism, gamergate had the ultimate result in me losing any faith I had in games journalism as anything more than enthusiast, consumerist press.
My main essay on gamergate, when the movement was only a couple of weeks old, was this essay at Overland, which, amusingly, is the only ‘anti-gamer’ essay of those early weeks that I’m aware of that actually uses the word ‘death’ in the title. None of the ‘death of gamer’ articles decried by gamergate actually use the word death at all. For what it’s worth, the title for my piece was chosen by Overland‘s editors, not myself, which is really just further proof that gamergate’s crying foul of the clear conspiracy to report on all these Literally Dead Gamers is absurd. I also wrote many tumblr posts during gamergate, usually in response to this or that particular moment that some gater said something absurd or that some games journalism outlet responded in an utterly irresponsible manner. Before the movement had solidified under the gamergate hashtag, I wrote this post about the abusers’ inability to comprehend scale of production and this post about how games journalism is part of the problem. I wrote this post after a bunch of harassers on twitter jumped on a tweet I wrote that said “gamers are shit people”. Last I checked, screengrabs of the tweet were still going around the hashtag as proof of my utter lack of ethics. I wrote this short story analogy when Kotaku US made the poor decision (in a series of poor decisions) to disallow their writers to contribute to Patreon projects, thus giving the gaters the idea that not only did they have a justifiable point (they didn’t), but that they were actually being listened to (they were). I wrote this post after realising that attacking gamergate directly did more harm than good and that it was quite likely there was no shortage of decent-but-gullible people caught up in the movement that needed to be informed about what they were caught up in. I no longer really think this is the case (if you are still supporting gamergate after this long, you have no excuse really), but I think it was important at the time. This post is about how gamergate is able to persist because they are the powerful status quo, and this post is explaining a joke that was so straightforward that it doesn’t really need explaining, and anyone who misunderstood it did so deliberately in order to exploit it. And, amusingly, here is me joining a larger conversation over a year ago about the issues with the ‘gamer’ identity. Almost like we were discussing these issues long before gaters came along. I have not written more on gamergate more recently (except tweets), but I can’t stress enough how much it is continuing to have a damaging effect on the lives of the most important people making and writing about videogames.
Due to gamergate, I’ve seen no shortage of excellent writers, mostly those that have emerged from the games criticism blog-o-sphere, feel cheated and disillusioned and ultimately abandoned by mainstream games journalism in the wake of gamergate. Many of them have talked about (if they haven’t already) quitting games journalism entirely because of the lack of support there for any writing or author that does not pander to the core readership of these outlets, which is the same demographic to whom pandering is responsible for gamergate in the first place. I hope these writers don’t stop writing about videogames, but I hope they do abandon games journalism. I hope many of us come to realise that games journalism is such a narrow slither of places that videogames can be written about. For my part, I’m going to continue to distance myself from core games journalism and write for more generalist audiences in outlets that don’t only write about videogames. I also want to get better at consuming media that is not videogames, and writing more about that. I’m tired of being game-centric, and I think videogames and their players need to be not the centre of the world far more often. There are a lot of good people in games journalism, to be sure, but the structure of the industry ultimately ensures that the most interesting writing around videogames is not supported. I think it is telling that not one piece of my favourite pieces of writing about videogames from the past year was published on an outlet that focuses solely on videogames. So, from the privileged position of not ever having been totally dependent on my freelancer income, I think it is safe to say I am done with games journalism narrowly defined, more or less, and I think many of the most interesting games critics feel the same way. There are so many more interesting outlets with more mature readerships that offer more support to their writers who are now, more than ever before, interested in videogames. Games journalism doesn’t need progressive and critically thinking writers, but now more than ever, those writers don’t need games journalism, and that’s something I’m very excited about.
So 2015 will see a lot more writing from me, a few more videos, and hopefully a completed PhD! I would also like to write another book about a single videogame, at some point (Driver: San Francisco and the metaphysics of videogames is one I’m strongly considering). Another thing that might happen in 2015 is either a return to creative writing, or perhaps I’ll finally learn how to actually make games. After so many years of academic and critical writing, I’m certainly feeling the urge to just make stuff again. Or maybe I’ll just spend all my time trying to write a better tweet than this one.