Why do any of us write, but for ourselves?
I admit to having a violent, love-hate relationship with blogs. They, along with tweets, Facebook updates, “vlogs” (the only time I will ever write that word in an unironic context) and all the other relics of our post-culturally connected, always-on world, are most often used to bolster the user’s own sense of self-importance – an understandable reaction to living in a time in which the camera is always on, the eye is always watching, and we are expected (if not required) to live in public. If we sometimes roll our eyes at our friends posting pictures and stories carefully posed and selected to make their lives seem more interesting, or at least less mundane, than life usually is, perhaps the tendency can be forgiven if we view it as a natural method of reasserting some sense of personal control.
At the same time, social media has given us what’s probably the greatest gift of the twenty-first century – a multilateral exchange of ideas. Even as I write (with a well-practiced “grumpy-old-man” look on my face, I assure you) about how utterly useless I find most of the detritus of social media, I have in my bookmarks a list of about five or so blogs that I check almost daily, mostly about games, politics or music. I personally couldn’t imagine my morning routine without reading them. And I can unequivocally say that they’ve all enriched my life in some way; I’ve been given new ideas, and if I disagree with them, they’re (usually) well-written and argued enough that I have to bloody well think before I spout a scathing rant to no one in particular. The law of averages stands: if there is a near-infinite amount of content being produced, then there will be a higher amount of quality work along with the rubbish.
All that said, I’m an extremely tentative adopter of social media. I resisted getting a Facebook account for years, simply because I didn’t see the need for one, and now that I have one I believe I have less than fifty contacts attached to it. The only time I post on Facebook is to share Youtube videos of music that I’m enjoying, or post snippets of lyrics, or particular ideas that occur to me that can be summed up in uncharacteristically tidy fashion. I’ve never had a Twitter account, I’ve never posted a Youtube video, and the few times I’ve considered writing a blog, I’ve dismissed it with pretty much the identical arguments stated above – what the hell could I have to say that anyone would possibly give a shit about?
Which begs the question: what do I hope to accomplish writing this blog? What’s the why?
The short answer’s already been given; I write for myself. I enjoy video games immensely, and I enjoy talking about them with other people.
The long answer is a bit more depressing, as well as being less prosaic: mainstream games journalism is the fucking pits. Forty years after video games crawled out of the hobbyist’s basement and into bars, living rooms and the public consciousness, mainstream games journalists are still writing about them in a completely rudimentary fashion. They focus solely on mechanics, or even worse, fidelity, and leave it at that. Forty years and video games’ most publicly visible champions are incapable of talking about what video games mean. And even in their myopic, lapdog focus on a game’s physical properties, they can’t even discuss what the mechanics do for the purpose of the game (an abstract fine line I’m sure is lost on a lot of mainstream games writers); instead they focus on how these properties, the physical mechanics of the gameplay and the amount of light and sound the game engine can throw at us at once, tickles the monkey part of our brain. How it makes us feel in other words, in a purely physical, sexual sense. And if that last statement made you feel uncomfortable, it should have.
This is all completely divorced from another problem in games journalism, which is how mainstream gaming is presented to the non-game-playing public. The outward face of mainstream gaming is abysmal. If its not IGN publishing monthly “Babeology” pictorials, with all the attendant floor-punching atavism in the comments section talking about the girls as if they’re sex dolls, then its Kotaku with its veneer of “try-hard-to-not-try-so-hard” gaming hipsterism, blithely bashing the medium they supposedly support in the most back-handed, smirking way possible. If you need a tidier example of the bilge that mainstream gaming spews into an uninformed public’s retinas, look no further than this year’s E3 trade show (Or better yet, don’t).
In the wasteland of games journalism, there are a few oasis’ of hope: the wonderful Rockpapershotgun regularly posts Kickstarter updates, champions independent games that wouldn’t get press otherwise, and links articles that aren’t afraid to discuss the abstracts of games, from a design or philosophical standpoint. Their weekly article roundup, “The Sunday Papers” is one of my favorite parts of the weekend. In a similar, if more abstract vein, the blog Plot is Gameplay’s Bitch is worth looking at just for Mr. Jubert’s attempt to set out concrete rules for a subjective system of aesthetic judgement for video games.
By and large though the landscape for real games writing is as barren as Bobby Kotick’s soul. The whole thing points to a lack of respect for the medium, and if the media-consuming (and how I do hate to use that word) public is ever going to treat video games as something other than a hobby for children and dew-can-crushing fist-bumpers, then games journalists, critics and writers are going to have to start talking about games in a deeper fashion than critiquing the mechanics that we’ve seen for four decades.
So there you go. I’m not fooling myself into believing that I can make a dent in a system that supports what is potentially a business worth billions of dollars a year. I’m a twenty-something with half of a degree in Linguistics and way too much time on his hands. I know nothing about writing. But I love video games, and I’m at a point in my life where my hobbies and passions mean enough to me to start digging deeper. I don’t just want to do them anymore. I want to discuss them, meaningfully and with insight.
But mostly, I really am just doing this for myself.