04 5 / 2013
A few writing updates!
While much of my time has been spent with organising my E3 trip, among a few other freelancing ventures, a few updates are warranted.
Firstly, I’ve managed to peek out of my games journalism cocoon and interviewed Christian music artist Audrey Assad for Christianity Today about her decision to abandon her record deal, and Kickstart a project to record worship music for use in Churches.
Audrey was a treasure to speak with, I could have filled thousands of words with our conversations. And in fact, look for a longer profile piece on Assad in the June print issue of Christianity today.
Also in Australian magazine news, the current issue of Hyper - June - has my review of Heart of the Swarm. Consequently, I’ve spent more time trying to improve my ranking on the SC leagues. It’s much harder now than when the first game came out in 2010.
And with that, I’m away. With E3 coming soon, updates will be warranted shortly!
04 5 / 2013
This post originally appeared on GameChurch.com.
Is there a Christian way to write about games?
After working as a freelance games journalist for a few years now, and after being a Christian for several more, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to separate my faith from the topics I choose to write about.
There’s a fascinating tension within Christianity. Believers say their talents are given to them by God, and should be used in His name. Such is my latest struggle: How can you possibly intertwine journalism, Christianity and videogames?
“It can’t be done.”
I remember the conversation clearly. Immediately after the morning church service had ended, but not before the soothing music had finished vamping out. The murmur of conversation had begun. Being a wide-eyed, 19-year-old eager beaver, at the beginning of my university studies, I wanted to know as much as I could about working in journalism, and particularly, how I could do so without jeopardising any of my personal values.
Journalism, you see, is a cutthroat occupation. Not fit for any young man of Christian standards.
I began speaking with an older gent who I knew had some experience in advertising and journalism. I figured he may have some wisdom to help me on my way.
My older, learned friend suggested such a feat was not just unlikely – it was impossible. I wouldn’t be able to balance my “values”, whatever those were, with the supposed tenants of journalism: lying, cheating, deception, manipulation and malice.
Of course, the warning was bogus. I’ve been able to balance a career in journalism with my own personal faith values just fine, but the conversation raised a key point: how does one’s faith impact their work?
Journalism is about seeing the truth, then repeating it for a wider audience. For this reason I’ve rarely had to stop and think about the moral purity of whatever I’m doing. At a structural level, the values of Christianity and the values of journalism line up very well. I see what I believe to be the truth, and I expose it.
The profession isn’t always as simple as this pithy summary allows, but it often is. Most of the time, journalism isn’t complicated. Listen, take notes, be fair. Write the truth. The gap between right and wrong, for all the guff journalists receive, is unsurprisingly narrow. That applies whether I’m writing about balance sheets or videogames.
I took a fairly non-traditional route into writing about videogames. (Most games media members would suggest there is no such thing as a traditional path). I didn’t consider journalism until well into high, although I was always a big reader, writer and a very curious kid. After a friend signed up to study journalism at university the year before my senior year, I considered it. And I got in.
I fell in love with journalism pretty quickly. I learned to recognize the ecstasy of reading a fantastic story. Something where the writer has talked to everyone involved, has found color and the bits of information no one knows, then has strung the story in gorgeous, readable prose.
I managed to swing my way into a business journalism gig during my final year of university. The role was for a journalist of an independent news website, where I remain as the deputy editor. There, I started developing my niche and love for business writing, which is among some of the best prose on the planet (see Michael Lewis for an example).
It was only back in 2010 when I actually considered writing about videogames. I was always a massive gamer, but never considered writing about them. I did a few reviews, a few (terrible) blog posts. I pitched an idea to Hyper Magazine, one of the longest-running games mags in Australia. I was published.
I quickly realized my comfort was not in games criticism or review, but in the longer-form exploratory feature. I start out with a question, and an inkling. I read, I listen, and I write. My stories are about discovery – I simply investigate an issue, then tell the reader what I found.
I love people. I’ve spoken with actors, developers and artists, and have listened to their stories.
To be perfectly frank, I’ve never much thought about how my Christian faith impacts my writing process. This is mostly because the ethics of a journalist mostly line up with those of the scriptures: Don’t bear false witness. Do not manipulate anyone. Respect your authorities, (editors). Be courteous.
The Christian God is concerned for the poor and oppressed. Such is the responsibility of the press. There isn’t much of a contradiction there. But last year, I wrote a piece for Polygon about Christians who make videogames. And it’s slightly changed how I think about the way I do my work.
The developers I spoke with mostly agreed: you can be a Christian and have that inform your work without forcing it into an evangelistic mold.
Christianity Today recently published an excellent interview with Tim Keller. At one point he mentions while there may not be a Christian way to land a plane, there is a Christian way to write a play. While it’s certainly enough to be kind and seek justice, the role of writer perhaps demands a slightly more conscious allegiance in the way we choose our writing subjects.
Christian journalists don’t have to write about Christian themes all the time. I don’t think they would be much good if faith was the only liquid in their well of ideas. The good folks over at Christianity Today have a breadth of experience from a wide range of “secular” publications, and they are all the better for it. It informs their faith.
Just as C.S. Lewis did so with gorgeous prose, or just as games developers display their talent through excellent games, I hope to do that by telling stories. To be a Christian journalist, you must be an excellent journalist first and foremost. I did not approach Polygon with my idea because I wanted to “spread the kingdom”. I did so because it was a good idea.
Nevertheless, there is, I feel, a responsibility to spy opportunities like this and better integrate the way we do our jobs and the way to write about faith in a way people will find meaningful. I’ve spoken to a few people who read the my story on Christian developers and said, “that made me think a little differently about Christians”.
I certainly didn’t choose the topic for those sorts of comments. But it’s made me think about the types of topics I’ll pursue in the future. I’m growing more conscious of the crossroads between my work, and my faith.
As writers, we have a responsibility to inject our prose with spirituality. We aren’t operating a piece of factory equipment, we’re using words to paint ideas. With that artistic power comes a responsibility. Art, after all, (writing is art), needs to reflect the nature of God. And while doing a good, solid job on any topic is praise in and of itself, I’m growing more convinced it requires a more conscious effort the more influence we accumulate.
Apart from simply following the “fruits” of structured Christian living, there is a way of injecting the way we see the world in two ways: the topics we choose and the way we write.
Consider the recent debate over religion in BioShock. This is a solid example of spying an opportunity to merge mainstream discussion with spirituality without hijacking the conversation. It identifies the spiritual already within the conversation – it doesn’t just create it out of thin air.
Games are filled with spirituality and spiritual issues – it’s a treasure trove of material for discussion. There are plenty of pastors who play videogames. Why not interview them and write an article about “The Priests of Gaming”? Does any game you’re playing right now beg for a spiritual reading?
Gamers love talking about the games they play. Why not give them something to talk about they may not have considered? If a game is an allegory for Christianity, or even brings up some interesting questions about religion, this is a great opportunity to point those out and get people thinking.
So can a journalist be a Christian? On a functional or practical level, absolutely. There is nothing morally challenging about interviewing people and telling their stories. We shouldn’t shy away from difficult subjects, or hearing viewpoints with which we disagree, (as the writing on GameChurch testifies).
On a more strategic level, however, perhaps there is an onus on Christian journalists – even games journalists – to write about spiritual matters. Not all the time. Not even most of the time. But if we don’t, it certainly seems like a waste.
17 4 / 2013
1. Be Kind. If this is the one thing I manage to do, I’ve done enough. Kindness may seem like a personality trait, but I think of it more as a habitual spiritual practice. Being kind has taught me that simple, seemingly insignificant human interactions can be profound. It has opened people and their stories to me. And, perhaps most important to my work, being kind has taught me that I know far less than I think I do. Always.
2. Love What You Do. This is not a passive thing, or a happenstance of trying to do what you love. It is a proactive, daily decision to nurture and seek satisfaction in the work I am doing. I think of it like marriage: sometimes it’s easy and simple. Sometimes it’s a daily, grinding decision to love. And sometimes, when you can’t do it any more, the last act of love is walking away.
3. Keep Your Brain Spongy. This is the fun part. I’m a big believer in feeding curiosity, and offering my subconscious mind a cornucopia of ideas. I read history, literature, and ancient Chinese murder mysteries. I feed the birds, train my ear to identify distinct birdsong, and try to learn the differences between sparrow species (almost all are the same buffy, brown color). I study physics, the latest developments in the modeling of protein-folding, and the genetic underpinnings of personality. I dig big holes in the yard, play and talk with animals, and right now I’m thinking about buying a metal detector. I am never bored.
4. Do the Next, Most Interesting Thing. This is a corollary of keeping your brain spongy, but it requires a very loose hold on one’s life-plans. In fact, I do very little life-planning at all; for better or worse, no career path can hold my attention for very long. So when people ask me how I became an NPR correspondent at such a young age, (or for that matter, how I ended up with a bit part in a Mexican telenovela) my best answer is that I didn’t really mean to. I just did a long series of the next, most interesting things. It’s kind of an informed version of winging-it."
11 4 / 2013
02 4 / 2013
21 3 / 2013
19 3 / 2013
11 3 / 2013
I haven’t written too much since my last feature, but I’m in the process of putting some projects together. As a result, it may be a few weeks before some more regular updates.
However, there are still a few things worth mentioning. First up is a Retrospective over at Eurogamer about Metro 2033, a game which I have a special spot for my in personal favourites list. I’m looking forward to the sequel, but I hope the developers don’t wash away too much of the rust that made the original so good.
The second update isn’t so much journalism-related as it is more personal. I interviewed Polygon news editor Brian Crecente over at my Crafting Podcast about his history in journalism, and his experience in reporting. It was a great discussion, it’s had a great response, and I really hope if you’re interested in journalism you’d give it a listen.
Speaking of the Crafting Podcast, I have to say, I’m pretty surprised at how good the reception has been. Over the four episodes I’ve put online, I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of downloads and listens. I’m really blown away by it - seems like I may have tapped into something people want to hear. Maybe! We’ll have to see if the attention sustains itself.
A final mention. There was some controversy late last week over Polygon’s changing of its SimCity review. Game academic, writer, developer Ian Bogost had some harsh words to say on Twitter about the site, and my post got a little bit of attention. You can read it here.
And that’s it for this month. I’ll have a Dead Space 3 review out for PC PowerPlay on the 20th of March, and something else entirely this week which doesn’t revolve around gaming at all. Shock horror!
‘til next time.
09 3 / 2013
"Global temperatures are warmer than at any time in at least 4,000 years, scientists reported Thursday, and over the coming decades are likely to surpass levels not seen on the planet since before the last ice age."
But let’s not address climate change, so polluters can make even more money. Because reasons.(via wilwheaton)
There is nothing we can do.