John Walker's Electronic House

Archive for March 5th, 2005

by on Mar.05, 2005, under The Rest

It’s that time of eternity when everyone involved in games journalism is having their say about “New Games Journalism”. Despite normally identifying myself as ‘Christian Youth Worker’ before ‘Games Journalist’ (because my social groups either consist of people who aren’t interested in my writing and take no notice of it, or people who are also writers who find it far more interesting that I’m a Christian youth worker), I still think I deserve my say.

I think titling things is frequently unhelpful. Look at the frustration people are experiencing at the hands of games’ genres. Darwinia will be out very soon, and it’s a game that merits everyone’s attention. However, it will lose painful numbers in sales because it isn’t simply slotted into a particular genre. Possible Real Time Strategy comes closest, but as soon as I type that I’ve done damage to the game. Now when someone plays it they will perceive, “Real Time Strategy – Darwinia = Stuff Left”. They’ll see the lack of pathfinding, or mouse-drag unit selection, or whatever other elements people have been trained to expect when they see the flag, “Real Time Strategy”. But Darwinia isn’t an RTS, and it’s also not a Puzzle Game, or a Third Person Action, or any other category one can recognise signifiers from. And it will suffer because of these titles.

Giving this name to a certain style of writing, one that has existed for years, will I think do more harm than anything else. People already don’t like ‘New Games Journalism’ (from now on begrudgingly called ‘NGJ’), they have decided. But when I ask people who say this what they think of particular pieces of writing put under the title, they tell me how good they thought they were. The most commonly referenced examples are Always Black’s articles, Bow Nigger, and Possessing Barbie, and who am I to buck the trend of linking to them in anything written about this subject. What stands out about these two pieces of writing is that they are exceptionally good. They are anecdotes recounted that took place within games. They are moments of humanity, superbly told. And then they are equally explorations of issues of humanity, viewed through the frame of gaming encounters. Bow Nigger looks at prejudice and hatred, Possessing Barbie looks at the fear of adults interacting with children, and the blurring of our understanding of infidelity when fantasy becomes digital.

There are many other examples of the type, going back over a decade. And through the filter of selective history, the surviving examples tend to be very interesting reading. Fantastic. And as ever we are compelled to draw lines, make connections, and most importantly, give a title. The motivation to do this was good. Kieron’s manifesto was a call to arms. It was finally writing down something that people had been talking about in the pub for ever, because this manner of writing is interesting, and it would be excellent to see more people writing in this way.

Not only that, but I believe Kieron’s intention was to point out that games writing deserves to be taken seriously. It’s often considered to be the silly younger brother of proper grown up magazine or newspaper journalism, because of people’s assumption that games are for children. That’s not a fair perception, and so naturally it’s one fought against. The NGJ manifesto cries out for people to take things seriously, to give credit to the work which they might dismiss out of prejudice.

It’s been a year. And in the past year there have been excellent articles written in this anecdotal manner of sharing experiences that took place within the context of gaming. However, this has not been the dominant result of the manifesto. What has happened since is analysis. Type in “new games journalism” into Google and you’ll see countless pages of articles by people exploring this “new movement”, frothing about how it’s changing the way we perceive games, or equally why NGJ is evil and must be destroyed, as it’s ruining the face of our planet.

And as such, NGJ becomes a burden on a writer. It is now perceived as “pretentious”. Stab.

The oft referred to pieces of writing are not pretentious. This analysis is. I’m now a part of it, writing this, analysing the analysis. I’m adding to the damage. Can’t be helped. The international dissection of what remains very few pieces of interesting writing is strangling potential, and perhaps has created a conscious pressure on all writing to live up to some sort of standard.

People grossly misunderstood the manifesto. I don’t know whose fault this is. But the result is people think of it as the beginning of a movement, the capturing of a new idea. It was neither of these things. Bow Nigger was not a result of this call, it was the precursor to it. It was a piece of journalism so interesting that it put the pressure on everyone to give it a genre. And then came the title. Now it is only viewed as “an example of NGJ”, rather than the far more relevant, “an example of some excellent writing”. The title has a stranglehold.

As online games develop, and broaden in their appeal, more people are playing them, and hence more people are finding themselves experiencing those moments of human interaction. These moments are interesting whether on a beach in Hawaii, a mobile phone conversation from a coffee shop in Luton, or in the Raptor Grounds of World of Warcraft. They are of particular interest to the gaming public when they happen in games, and they are particularly interesting when they happen in games because of the actualisation of the masks people wear when they meet each other in any circumstances. This is stuff that should be written about. But it doesn’t need to be a movement, a call to arms, a new approach to games writing… These are all throttling grips around writing’s neck. Analyse Bow Nigger as an article in a magazine, not a poster for a revolution.

There is no revolution. There is no movement. There’s just, as there always has been, some people writing some interesting stuff.

26 Comments more...