01 10 / 2013
I don’t enjoy doing these types of lists. Firstly, who cares what I think? By just offering an opinion I’m somehow making it seem valid, which is ridiculous because my thoughts rarely are.
But in the general discussion about video games journalism, there’s very little talk about the investigative work that’s been done and is continuing to be written. By and large I think criticism gets the most discussion. (Although to be fair, Polygon’s features have mostly changed that perspective).
I view journalism as a very distinct thing, separate from criticism. When we talk about “journalism” I think sources, interviews and investigations, not opinions and reviews. Both are good, but very different things.
So with that in mind, I’ve drawn up a quick list of ten of the best pieces of journalism about or relating to video games. You won’t find opinions in this list, nor will you find reviews. This is about investigation and profiles – classical journalism type stuff.
Why do this? Well, apart from the fact I can, I think it’s a good idea to share good writing when we can. It gives us a good standard to live up to and by promoting these pieces of writing as good, we all strive a little more. The video game industry does excellent work, and these are just a few examples of that. When we focus and put our heads down, we can make excellent, fantastic work.
So here are 10 of the best, (and in no particular order). I hope you enjoy them:
Simon Parkin is possibly the closest thing to a Michael Lewis we have in games writing – his ability to turn a phrase makes me weep. His investigation into the deaths of Taiwan gamers in cafes is well-research and excellently told.
Hyper – The Rise and Fall of Red Ant (Originally printed in Hyper, republished on Kotaku)
I’m proud to have written for a magazine which has published such a riveting story – a story that won Tracey Lien a Walkley award for journalism. This extraordinarily well-researched story delves into the collapse of a once-great Australian publisher.
Boston Globe – End Game
Funny how these stories tend to focus on collapses – perhaps it’s the drama. In any case, Curt Schilling’s journalism here chronicles the end of 38 Studios after the disappointing Kingdoms of Amalur. Some of the best video game journalism comes from non-video game journalists, and this is an excellent example.
New Yorker – Jennifer Hale: The Queen of Video-Game Acting
The art of the profile is an extremely difficult one to master. Tom Bissell does it well. This portrait of Hale’s life and her work is not only an honest look at one of the industry’s most recognised voices but also one that provides a sobering look at how beloved games are actually made.
Journalism is full of stories of writers being embedded in a group and then reporting on the outcome. Maddy Myers’ story may not have had the life-threatening elements of someone like Nellie Bly, her courage should be rewarded all the same.
New Yorker – The grammar of fun
Another New Yorker, another Tom Bissell. And with good reason. This profile of gaming’s closest thing to a rock star is a solid lesson in how to portray someone in print. The touches on Bleszenski’s late father are lovely.
Eurogamer – Journeyman
Yet another Simon Parkin piece. His discussion with Jenova Chen made waves when published for its portrayal of who is probably one of the industry’s best chances of pushing the medium into something new and exciting. A lovely look at what makes the man tick.
iOS/PC/Mac – The Final Hours of Portal 2
Geoff Keighley gets a bad rap, but his Final Hours series are excellent pieces of journalism. The content is rich, with interviews and discussions on the difficulties of making specific games and the rush to the finish line. The execution is also just as important – by self-publishing the apps Keighley paves the way for more writers to take control of their content. (Brendan Keogh took up the torch with his book on Spec Ops, Killing Is Harmless, in 2012).
IGN Australia – Why did LA Noire take seven years to make?
Andrew McMillen deserves praise for his hard work in piecing together this story from employees and others in the industry. His work brought to light the troubles involved with the Team Bondi studio, which eventually collapsed. It’s excellent stuff, and a good example of how games journalists still have the ability to do more traditional reporting with gusto.
Worth taking a look at also is McMillen’s talk on the aftermath of his piece – featuring some commentary on games journalism practices in general.
Kotaku – How LucasArts Fell Apart
A relatively new piece, Jason Schreier’s epic piece at Kotaku is an excellent showcase of reporting over a long period of time. Tying up interviews with ex-employees he puts together the tragic story of a once-proud developer turned dead. Fantastic, riveting stuff.
26 9 / 2013
We need to get rid of comments.
Banning people isn’t enough. Moderation isn’t sufficient. Let’s just get rid of ‘em. No more debate, no more talking and no more discussion. We had our fun, and now it’s over. Let’s close up the comments forever and leave it be.
It sounds like hyperbole, but I’m not exaggerating. (Okay, maybe a little for dramatic effect). But given the amount of changes we’ve seen in the past few months regarding comments and the people who make them, surely we can agree some people have seen the light – and more needs to be done.
Today, Gamespot announced a new comment policy, essentially a three-strikes system, accompanied by a new code of conduct in how the site would approach comments. It’s a great step. IGN took a similar one several weeks ago, and although I haven’t heard any good news about it, I haven’t heard anything spectacularly bad either, so I assume it’s doing its job.
The problem with comments – and this applies to much of the internet – is that the possibility of having a say in an issue is equalised with the substance of your words. The ability to make a comment is seen as a right, which is a misunderstanding in itself, but all sort of discussion is seen as valid.
Short point: It’s not.
PopSci took a dramatic step this week by completely banning comments. It took a bold step – by saying the contents of the site were simply not up for debate. It wasn’t that people weren’t allowed to have a say, but that the discussion was actually bringing down the scientific community. Because people believe their comments are just as good as any other person’s, debates over subjects the scientific community take for granted are now up for grabs.
Arguing the community on a gaming site is as important as a site discussing scientific theory and content is wrong, but nevertheless, PopSci sets a good example.
It’s not the only one. Google has introduced changes to YouTube comments as well, (a “community” long-regarded as the pit of commenting hell).
Just consider some of the discussions on major gaming sites over the past several months. Hell, last month on Polygon there was a major discussion on whether reviews should be “objective” or not.
That isn’t a discussion worth having. It’s not that there are opinions or a grey area – there’s not one there. There is no merit in suggesting reviews should be “objective”, because they aren’t designed to be that way and that’s not the method by which they are written. End of story.
Or consider the IGN topic regarding Gamespot reviewer Carolyn Petit. Awful things were said about Petit, (I’m not going to link to them). IGN’s policy on comments is a welcome change, but it can’t be everywhere at once, so it’s not surprising these types of comments were made. (Considering IGN’s audience, it almost seems inevitable).
The debate over user-controlled comments and moderation is worth considering in light of the popularity of Reddit and Something Awful – two of the most popular message boards in the world with two very different approaches to comments and user activity.
Reddit, famously, very much takes a user-controlled approach. Comments aren’t moderated, and the best rise to the top. The “best” being those comments which are voted on by the community as being witty, or funny, insightful, or whatever.
The upside of this is the reader of any particular thread sees the most useful comments first. But they also show comments seen as the most popular, which aren’t always right.
The lack of moderation also means we have sub-Reddits with racist and sexist content, although lately Reddit has been stepping down on those. (Again, the benefits of moderation).
Something Awful takes a much more clinical approach. Users are banned for the slightest of rule-breaks, including not using punctuation or simply breaking the rules of a particular thread.
Of course, having all replies be equal in a message board is akin to the commenting problem – every viewpoint is seen as being valid, whereas in Reddit, unpopular views may be more likely to drop to the bottom. In a sub about science, for instance, this would be of great benefit.
We’re seeing more sites take the Something Awful approach with comments, by working on moderation and banning those who make hurtful comments.
But here’s the problem – neither of these approaches weeds out the bad comments. They simply approach them in different ways.
We live in an age in which all opinions, views or updates are viewed as valid. “I’m going to the gym!” I say on Facebook – instantly get three likes. Awesome, I think to myself. What I just said was valuable and useful to someone.
Except it’s not. We live in a delusional echo chamber, and the internet magnifies that effect. We need to stop this notion that what we say matters, because of most us are stupid, uninformed and have no right to speak authoritatively on any issue that we haven’t seriously studied.
Do we really think the people commenting on Anita Sarkeesian’s videos have done as much research as she has? Do we really think people insulting those in the trans community have gone through as much hurt and pain as they have, or understand the ramifications of their words?
Are we supposed to believe that someone commenting on the fact global warming is a myth has done as much research as professional scientists?
Enough is enough. We need to stop the notion that having a say is somehow a right. No, it’s a privilege. By cutting out comments altogether, we can move the discussion elsewhere.
After all, it’s lazy, isn’t it? By making the first comment or putting an argument on someone’s article, I’m robbing their attention and have an in-built audience. But if I want to create a blog post rebutting someone, it takes a lot more work to gain an audience.
Maybe for news posts and more harmless content, comments can slide. We can let them be.
But for features, or pieces of content that are somehow controversial? It’s time to get rid of ‘em.
After more than twenty years of using the internet as a place to talk, we need to change it up. By getting rid of comments, we can force everyone to do the most important thing to build empathy and knowledge – simply listen.
28 8 / 2013
19 6 / 2013
09 6 / 2013
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