In 2015 I got married, moved interstate, completed a PhD, and started a new job. It has been a pretty full on year! Amidst all that, it doesn’t feel like I wrote all that much beyond my academic work. Yet, now that I am looking back at it, I actually wrote a fair bit! Mostly in the first half of the year since the last six months or so have seen me mostly devoured by my PhD thesis as I worked to finish it off.
In 2014’s version of this post, I remarked on both my own and other critics’ growing disillusionment with writing about games generally and the institution of ‘game journalism’ in particular. Especially in the wake of gamergate, many more critical writers began to realise those core outlets would never be an outlet that would truly support their writing. Some left writing about games entirely, while others began pitching their games writing to a broader, more general audience. I personally took the latter path. I all but gave up on pitching to core game journalism outlets in 2015, choosing instead to write for places that don’t focus on just games. Places such as Overland, Reverse Shot, and ABC’s The Drum.
This has been a challenge, but an incredibly satisfying one. It has prevented me from relying on the usual crutch vocabulary and to really think about what words I am using. If I can communicate the pleasures of Earth Defence Force 2017 to someone who perhaps has not played videogames in thirty years, then I am pretty happy with where I am as a game critic. It’s also where I think game criticism has to go in the future: away from the same, consumerist readerships of core game journalism that will never, ever see critical analysis as more than a peripheral aspect of what they serve their readers and towards integrating with broader critical conversations around other forms of pop culture. It is more important for game criticism to be in conversation with film criticism, television criticism, and music criticism than with game and tech journalism. This is something I have come to firmly believe in 2015.
(As an aside, I have come to feel the same way about the disciplinary positioning of videogame studies in the university. I no longer identify myself as ‘game studies’. But as a media/cultural studies scholar who focuses on videogames. I would much rather be in discussion with other media/cultural studies scholars who focus on television/film/social media/mobile phones/comics/fanfic than solely in discussion with other game and computer science scholars. That’s just now how I am interested in videogames.)
So that is where my writing has gone this year, or at least where it has strived to go.
My column at Reverse Shot has continued through 2015, though not quite on the monthly schedule it was meant to be on. When I played a FIFA game for the first time earlier this year, I wrote an essay on the pleasures of spectating videogame play.
An essay that took a long time to get out, and which is in much debt to my editors for not being an incoherent mess, is my essay on Alien: Isolation as a work of film-to-videogame adaptation. Here, I try to talk about what makes Isolation so special and why the absence of this special-ness is what renders so many film-to-videogame adaptations weak. I try to hone in on the action-centricity of conventional blockbuster videogame design—a convention that Isolation largely and commendably ignores.
My next Reverse Shot essay explored the games that Robert Yang has released over the past year. I analysed what I love about these games a little bit, but mostly discussed what about their transparent process is so exciting, including Yang’s commitment to writing ‘Author Notes’ for each and every game.
My final essay for Reverse Shot in 2015 tried to pinpoint just what I find so special about the Earth Defence Force series beyond any lazy “It’s so bad it’s good” claim.
At Overland, I only have two publications this year. The first is one I wrote for the print magazine that was subsequently published online. Last year, just as Gamergate was starting up, I wrote this essay for Overland explaining its context in contemporary game cultures. Overland asked me to follow this up with an essay that explored the longer historical imperatives that paved the way towards Gamergate. I was already working on something similar to this for an academic paper that I went on to present at DiGRA in Germany, and I translate the ideas into my essay “Hackers, Gamers, and Cyborgs“. The idea here is that the masculinisation of ‘gamer’ culture can be traced back to a masculinisation of computer culture before it that injects neoliberal ideologies of autonomy and agency into gaming culture from an early age. I then trace a counter-lineage to this through the cyborg literature of the likes of Donna Haraway up to today’s altgame and zinester scenes. The response to this essay were pretty mixed. Some interpreted my saying computers have been “naturalised as male” to mean “only men work in the space of computers” which I would have though is obviously not what I meant, but apparently not! Still, I regard this as one of the better things I wrote this year.
Also at Overland, sparked by the removal of Flight Control from the App Store, I wrote this brief essay on the problems of preserving contemporary videogame history. In ten years from now, many of the games we play today are going to be harder to gain access to than games from ten or even twenty years ago are to play today. It’s a pretty grim notion for anyone interested in the cultural significance of videogames.
I did not write for The Conversation very much this year. Frankly, they don’t pay and I can’t stand their newspaper-esque style guide that puts a line break after practically every sentence. But they have a pretty large readership, and can be a useful platform if you have something you really want to say, as I did when Arts Minister George Brandis’s “National Program for Artistic Excellence” guidelines excluded videogames from funding. Australia’s current government is horrendous for a whole range of reasons (human rights, social services, the environment, and the arts have all suffered dearly), and I wish I was a relevant writer across a broader range of issues so I could do more to call them out on it. So when they do engage with the space of videogames, the opportunity to come out guns blazing against them is hard to pass up. The Conversation provided a good platform for this, and I ended up being interviewed on ABC Radio about the issue.
I wrote a couple of op-eds for ABC’s The Drum in 2015. The one that got the most attention was this one calling out pop culture expo Supanova for inviting Gamergate head misogynerd Adam Baldwin. Many attendees complained to the expo about Baldwin’s proposed appearance, stating they would feel personally unsafe, to which Supanova, across its social media platforms, mostly responded with snark, teasing, and generally just missing the point. To this day I don’t believe Supanova has offered any sort of apology for supporting geek culture’s most violent and damaging hate group.
I co-authored an essay with Cara Ellison for the State of Play anthology on videogame violence. The entire anthology is an invaluable collection of new and core videogame criticism works.
Most of my writing in 2015 appeared here on my own blog. This is mostly because I simply did not have the energy this year to pitch to places or to write in any sort of regular or predictable fashion. When I wanted to write something, it was easier to just throw it up on here. Especially as I no longer hold any dreams of ever supporting myself financially from my writing. I regret not reaching the same general readership on my own blog that I reach through the above outlets, but it is just easier sometimes.
I wrote a few broader ‘about videogames’ sort of essays this year, but far fewer than in the past. I wrote why I find the mantra “Videogames aren’t special” so important to my writing. I put forward a sort-of-kind-of manifesto for what I want out of a roadtrip videogame. I joined a much bigger conversation to ponder one way that the position of ‘the player’ might be meaningfully devalued in videogame play and design.
But for the most part, I just wrote about videogames. Not ‘Videogames’ in the broad sense, but just about individual, specific videogames. Just talking about a game I played and unpacking what I thought was good about it. This is always the writing I prefer doing: just straight-up analysing a game for what it is, not for what is says about some external thing I would rather be writing about. Here is the game, here is what it is. These essays are kind of reviews, I guess, except I don’t think of them as having to fulfil the same objectives as a review. It’s just me trying to unpack a game.
I wrote a lot of these sort of essays this year, probably more than any other sort of writing. I wrote about Metamorphabet, Hotline Miami 2, Final Fantasy XIII, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Super Mario Maker, and The Beginner’s Guide.
While it is probably not the wisest thing to do, I’ve also continued to house a second blog, Ungaming, for more rough, scrappy, unfinished musings that don’t really warrant a place here. Having two blogs seems like it must be pretty annoying for my readers, but I find having an outlet just for half-finished stuff really liberating. I wrote a ramble about videogame form (as opposed to game form), and reacted to a Washington Post article on Super Mario Maker that lamented most people are bad at making courses.
More importantly, I have found Ungaming a useful outlet to finally try my hand at occasionally writing about things that are not games. It feels like I have a justification to go back to being a shitty, just-getting-started writer in other areas by using this tumblr. So I wrote about a couple of films I saw, namely John Wick and Robocop. And I tried my hand at writing some rants about Australian politics beyond my usual and pointless Facebook screeds.
And finally, the most important thing I wrote this year, and the thing I am most proud of, is my PhD thesis, A Play of Bodies: A Phenomenology of Videogame Experience. This is the result of 3.5 years work, and I believe it marks a pretty significant intervention in how we talk about videogames in the academy. I am really happy with it. It feels like all the work I’ve been doing, both academically and critically, has been building towards the arguments I’ve made here.
That is pretty much it! Next year I will be lecturing in game design full-time at SAE Institute in Brisbane, while trying to continue doing more of my own academic research around that job. Hopefully my PhD thesis will morph into a book, and hopefully some other book projects I am working on both alone and with others come to fruition as well. I’ll probably continue to crawl back from other outlets and continue to publish more on my own website, especially now I am getting a liveable wage from other means, but hopefully I still get a bit of stuff out there.
I did not read a whole lot of stuff in 2015, so I am not going to write my usual post of recommended reading. But here are a few things that really stood out this year:
Videogame For Humans edited by Merritt Kopas. Perhaps the most important book on games this year.
Embed With Games by Cara Ellison. The book version of her essay series.
“Understanding the Sublime Architecture of Bloodborne” by Ario Barzan at Kill Screen.
Will Partin’s review of Prison Architect, also at Kill Screen.
Zolani Stewart’s review of Peter Jackson’s King Kong for Zeal.
Dan Golding’s radio series for ABC Radio National, “A Short History of Video Games“.