The Poison Fish Juggle

I don’t think I ever wrote about New Games Journalism. I try to avoid this kind of meta-commentary, because I’m happier on the shop floor, making stuff, writing about games and so on. But with the book sent and my best piece of writing ever about to be published in PC Gamer I thought I’d step into the quagmire and slosh about. Maybe build a small pillar of mud.

So there was this thing a while back when Keith wrote a piece about ‘Ten Unmissable Pieces of New Games Journalism’. It got a lot of traffic. I still get referrals from it all the time, which is a shame because my piece is one of the less interesting things I’ve written (And look how just today a Planetside man has commented. I shall return there soon).

I think Keith wrote that article because people were bashing games journalism and a few of us made a fuss and said ‘hey, there is good stuff, and you need to tell them, Keith, you big mainstream journalist.’ And there was stuff. And Keith made a list. Looking at it now it seems that there wasn’t an underlying theme at all to Keith’s list, except that none of it fitted with the preview/review/Top Ten Shooters templates that we’re all familiar with from traditional web/mag games journalism. They were feature writing. Writing about certain subjects, in a variety of styles.

Quite a few people didn’t like A Rape In Cyberspace, which came top of the list. I’m wondering if that didn’t colour every single piece of critical commentary on the idea since. Given control over the flow of the universe I’d have put Chick’s piece top, and seen how that changed things.

It seems as if a couple of pieces of writing that had nothing to do with Gillen’s manifesto have, by virtue of Keith’s excellent list, created an independent concept of what Gillen was trying to say with his ludicrous phrase-mongering.

Simply, I took it to mean ‘we need to write more pieces that aren’t just reviews/feature lists/marketing spiel’, which was basically the theme of what a group of games journalists talk about down the pub every night. But take RAM Raider’s summation of it:

Think of it like The Longest Journey. Stark was the world of science that took itself very seriously, while Arcadia was a parallel world where fantasy and magic existed, but was being threatened by the balance. Think of NGJ as Stark (clinical, joyless, overly existential and self referential) and OGJ as Arcadia (more basic and earthy, but tingling with magic and fantasy). Imagine there’s a King of Arcadia and a Queen of Stark. Both are arrogant, and have a belief that they are always correct (characteristics of every good critic), but the King of Arcadia’s style upholds the balance between arrogance and criticism, and self-referentialism and critique. The Queen of Stark, on the other hand, threatens the balance by forgetting the fantasy world of wonder exists, and focuses too much on reading between the lines like a sixth-form A-Level English Literature student until all traces of fun have been analysed out of the equation.

The moral of the story? The balance has to be maintained. Forget the fact that you’re writing about games that are there to entertain and be fun, and you’ll end up with some bollocks about being raped in cyberspace.

That seems representative of a lot of what folk had been talking about, but it doesn’t seem representative of Keith’s list. I am wondering, now that we’ve finished the book, whether someone will describe it in a similar way. In some ways I hope they do, because it’d sort out those stuck in their own ideological/personal reactions from those who realised that Gillen’s warbling and Keith’s list were just an attempt to point out that there’s a lot of variety in games writing. There is no NGJ ‘style’, and to say so implies Gillen’s manifesto was a style guide or some equally useless piece of classificatory analysis. There are simply new ways of talking, and new things to talk about.

For the last year, from the Korea investigation to editing the book, the job has taught me a lesson that I hope I’ve packaged in those pages we just sent to the publisher: that there is new games journalism, without the capital letters, and it speaks with a multitude of voices. And you’re not going to like all of it, but why should you? There is no ‘balance’, no status quo needs to be maintained, because people will just write about what they’re interested in. And they’re interested in some very different things, from the words they use, to the games they play. Imagine if they weren’t. Hideous homogenous nonsense would result.

We’re really all cultural omnivores. As this blog shows, I don’t just think about games, or just write about games. But even when just thinking about games I’m concerned with variety. The book has been a superb exercise in demonstrating just what a huge terrain games writing now covers. Having Tim Stone’s delirious 1950s parodic simulation interests next to Stuart Campbell’s energised rants, next to O’Connor’s lunatic Katamari review, next to my Eve evangelising, next to Chick’s hilarious and human Saving Private Donny, next to Remy’s classic developer inteview… it all just goes to show that games journalism is a juicy, evolving heap of ideas, many of which you won’t like or agree with. But they’re simply not falling into any brackets of convenience. Classifying these pieces of writing in sections was almost impossible, as we discovered.

Anyway, you’ll make your own judgments, and I’m looking forward to compiling a Wasp Factory of positive and negative comments on its release.

In other news: the piece I wrote on Korea has finally been sent to press. It’s coming out in PC Gamer on the 17th of November. It has some big problems (ha) but it’s the best piece of games journalism (proper honest-to-paper travelling to Far Away and talking to the people there) I have ever written and, I hope, one of the best things written about gaming this year. Please buy PC Gamer next week, read it, and tell me what you think.

I’ll write some more about it on the day of publishing, probably.


18 Responses to “The Poison Fish Juggle”

  • Kieron Gillen Says:

    Also, it’s worth remembering that the SECOND thing on the list was Tim Rogers’ piece. If anything is going to get some people’s back up, it’s Tim. Bless him.

    KG

  • Feet Says:

    I’m looking forward to reading both the book and your Korea piece in next months PCG.

    One question though: Since I’ve read the Gaurdian piece, the writing linked there-in and PCG for the last few years, how much brand new XCLUSIVE!1!! stuff will there actually be in the book? Will I have read a large segment of it before?

    Not that it matters to me, I’ll still buy it anyway just so I can read them on the throne.

  • Rossignol Says:

    Three of twenty one pieces have been previously published on the web. A fourth was previously published in French.

  • Stu Says:

    But i only bought PC Gamer a week or so ago. Is there a new one out already? Maybe they are slowly realising a dream of pulishing once a week or – even better – a day. Like Coronation street but with Games. Then i can read Pc Gamer every day like your and Kierons Web blog and reviews as often as Eurogamer updates… wait… why do i buy PC gamer again?

    Is it January already?

  • John W Says:

    Er Stu. You bought it a “week or so ago”, and Jim says the next one’s out in over a week… I’m adding up to about a month here.

  • bob arctor Says:

    “Three of twenty one pieces have been previously published on the web. A fourth was previously published in French.”
    Where from? A French gaming site? If so can you tell me the name of the site. I’ve been looking for French games stuff to read to improve my French, but apart from the magazine Joystick (impracticle to subscribe to, net easier. Good mag though) haven’t found anything.

  • Keef Says:

    Jim, you’re right about why I wrote that list – I was quite inspired by Kieron’s NGJ manifesto and I’d written a piece myself about games magazines and just thought it would be an interesting thing to do. At the time, we weren’t sure what kind of people were reading the Gamesblog and what they were interested in so it was a way of testing the water. And I also knew that it would upset people, which leads to links, which brings in page impressions… I’m still planning a follow-up.

    Really looking forward to seeing the book. Even though I’m not in it : (

  • Rossignol Says:

    There’s always volume 2, eh?

  • RAM Raider Says:

    I think it’s worth mentioning that I’ve never considered Gillen to be ultimately responsible for NGJ. The piece I originally wrote on it some time ago blamed that awful list in The Guardian.

    Admitting that it was thrown together to upset people and bring in page hits is probably the strongest evidence yet that NGJ is of no value at best, and damaging to the credibility of the gaming press at worst.

    My original critique of NGJ is here:

    http://ramraider.blogspot.com/2005/04/sod-new-games-journalism-whats-wrong.html

  • tim rogers Says:

    KG, whatever do you mean by “If anything is going to get some people’s back up”? I appreciate being blest, however.

    Personally, Mr. Rossignol, I wouldn’t be ashamed of the wonderful piece you had listed on there. My thing, though — it was a joke, and thanks to that Guardian piece, I /still/ get emails from people threatening to kill me or, subtly worse, written in the tone of a man with a monocle, sipping a glass of wine, informing me that my piece was “quite unintentionally hilarious on too many instances to count.” Actually, /I/ thought those (probably-)same places were funny, too. “I’m glad you lost count!” I want to say; I feel alone in the world about my sense of humor sometimes. Yet then it hits me: maybe this person is trying to be “postmodern”? It’s a wicked web of world-wide words we weave, and by “we” I mean “I.”

    That’s where all this comes from — people who use first-person pronouns without shame. People with balls, fists, and hearts, and the desire to write something about one of those. Usually, that desire is selfish; desire by nature always is. In the end, the hard-facts-reporting journalist is only reporting hard facts because he gets a sensation of personal fulfillment out of it. Whether he speaks it or not doesn’t change the fact that he’s a self-pleaser. We all are, unless we’re dead. I could go on and on.

    In the end, when words are arranged pleasingly, they pass the time, and sometimes we remember that time again, and I guess that makes it nice. Writing “about games” is “writing about games,” though “good writing” can be about anything. In the end, whether working or sleeping, until time kills us, all we can do is kill time. Ironically, as animals that dream and wake up in fields of brown grass with a desire to tell the one lying next to us of the colors and scenery we existed, seeing until moments ago, all our oldest ancestors could do was scream, cry out in the direction of the wind. We have grown by our fathers’ fathers’ fathers’ words, by their collected memories, and we now understand this great truth!!

    Whether working or resting, until time kills us, all we do is kill time!!

    Now go forth, Jim Rossignol! Choose life! And then LIVE!! And play more videogames! And write things about them without writing things about writing about them!!

    . . . I apologize. I’m being like this on purpose. It’s a hobby.

    You wrote something about Korea? I wrote a little something about Korea, too. The magazine published 500 words of it; I wrote them 87,000. Maybe I overdid it? The editor said, “They were all lovely; we only needed 500, so we only took 500.”

    My name is Tim Rogers and I love writing horrible inane things on people’s blogs. I get paid for it, in fact.

    Keep up the power, at any rate.
    I’ll read this mystic “book” if someone sends me a copy.

    Check my IP address.

    My boss’s name is Ken, and he likes when I read him interesting game writing.

    And if, for volume two, you need someone to write an F-word-laden 19,000-word composition involving videogames, cucumber sandwiches, and penises — I think you know who to ask.

  • Ross Says:

    The issue of PC Gamer containing Jim’s Korea feature will be published on Thursday 24th November.

  • Kieron Gillen Says:

    Tim: “KG, whatever do you mean by ‘If anything is going to get some people’s back up’? I appreciate being blest, however.”

    You’re someone who provokes strong opinions, Tim. You may have noticed.

    KG

  • Kieron Gillen Says:

    (Not that is actually BAD. Just that someone who divides someone so much tends to radicalise commentary prematurely.)

    KG

  • Rossignol Says:

    And Edwards told me 17th, the bummer.

  • Tim E Says:

    You calling me a bummer, bummer?

  • tim rogers Says:

    “You’re someone who provokes strong opinions, Tim. You may have noticed.”

    I have some strong opinions of mySELF, actually. They tend to usually begin with the word “Gorgeous.”

  • Kieron Gillen Says:

    Funnily enough, one of my Comic Artists’ favourite stories is how he almost met you when he was in the distant east of legend earlier this year.

    So you’re kind of legendary.

    KG

  • tim rogers Says:

    You know someone who ALMOST MET ME? Wow, I’m really jealous of the guy. I’d give at least 5,000 yen to have only ever ALMOST met myself.

    He’s not the same guy who once posted on a forum, saying “I was in Akihabara and I saw Tim Rogers walking down one side of the street and I stepped into a backstreet because I was afraid he was going to talk to me”, is he? Because if then, he’s a jackass. If I recall, that man had also only gone to Japan to see some wrestling event, meaning he thinks a little more highly of himself than, well, a man who boards airplanes for twelve hours to watch sweaty men punching very well should.

    If the guy almost met me by accident, tell him he’s a jackass; if he almost met me by thoughtful consideration, tell him to raise his courage up a little more next time, and take the plunge, give me a call or something. I don’t bite.

    Unless he’s got HORRIFYINGLY BIG BOOBS.

    If there are moderators here, they should ban me. I expect to be banned by the time I come back from lunch.