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On games writing

As I’ve said on my main blog D’log before, the English-speaking world needs one or more intelligent popular/critical publications about videogames, and yet we don’t have one — even in PDF form. In the latest Gamasutra, John Sharp and David Fox also make the call

“The game industry has the first circle [of purchaser-oriented review magazines] in spades, and game studies is quickly becoming a recognized part of academia. But the middle circle of popular, thoughtful criticism? […] games do not have a smart, critical periodical. Of course, there’s some great work underway such as The Escapist, Rock Paper Shotgun, and Edge magazine. There are also insightful blogs such as Greg Costikyan’s “Play This Thing!” or Ian Bogost’s “Water Cooler Games“. But there’s no primary destination that has broken through beyond a small readership and made headway into the larger culture.”

The main problem, I think, is time. Which equals money. I guess ‘review magazines’ of books, theatre, and films (the very few that can still pay decent money to genuine reviewers) can pay their reviewers for, at most, six hours? That’s perhaps £100 per review, at the very most? And that probably includes writing the review. Simply the time spent in the game world to fully play and explore the game, and the editing of the many video clips a proper long review would need, could take up to 60 hours. Let alone the writing of it. Even the most ad-packed and upmarket review magazine is going to think twice before forking out £500 to £1000 for one substantial review.

Then there’s the cost of the kit needed for video capture while still playing at an acceptable frame-rate during extensive play. I’m assuming HQ video is going to be vital for talking in depth about a game experience. Yet game reviewers are going to need a really ninja gaming PC to play and capture decent-quality HQ video at the same time — and apparently the kit is even more expensive if you want to get HQ video out of a PS3 or XBox console (witness the terrible “point mum’s camcorder at the telly” fanboy videos littering YouTube). Which probably means publishers sponsoring the reviewers’ kit, and thus expecting a certain implicit consideration in return. Like, the reviewers actually play the game.

There’s also an interesting assumption made in the article — that academics in game studies are insular ivory-tower types, and are not likely to suddenly become public intellectuals writing for this mythical intellectual-but-popular games periodical. True, some have blogs. But time and money again mitigate against the possibility that academics will be regularly turning out lengthy in-depth articles for this Times Review of Games, once they’re on the… “write funding applications and journal articles and book chapters and conference papers and be nice to the Dean and teach a few hundred students while you’re at it” treadmill. And which university Vice-Chancellor is going to risk appearing in The Daily Mail because his university authorised paid leave for a lecturer to spend 200 hours playing Morrowind or trolling around in Second Life?

So we’re back to the hardcore gamers, and hoping beyond hope that a few of them might also be the new Mark Steyn. Not a bad place to be, but not likely — or at least not in the volume, quantity and consistency needed for a monthly Times Review of Games. So I guess our initial hope lies in a discriminating “overlay journal” — a glorified blog, in other words — one that scours the web and points to intelligent online articles whenever and wherever they appear.

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