I want to quickly yammer about some games stuff that I probably wonâ€™t get to splice into my syndicated empire of international gibberish.
First up: games magazines. I regularly get into obstinate, pedantic word-flinging matches in comments threads across the Internet on the subject of games mags. Usually itâ€™s because Iâ€™m just feeling like fighting, but sometimes I have a point to make too. Recently Iâ€™ve been hearing a lot about how games magazines are broken in one way or another. One of the issues that gets dragged up by my interlocutors is that games magazines fail, in one way or another, to address the needs and requirements of â€˜casual gamersâ€™. As writer Gillen regularly points out, if youâ€™re a casual partaker in any subject youâ€™re probably not going to be buy a magazine about it. We all enjoy music, but how many of us actually buy Q or the NME? Is that the fault of the magazines themselves? Have they been too elitist? No â€“ the fact is that most of us simply have other priorities than reading reams of text regarding music, no matter how delicately orchestrated to cater to our casual palette these words might be.
So a â€˜casualâ€™ games mag is something impossible, a dream object that can be conceptualised but never actualised. In reality there are only really two types of games magazine: those that are trying, and those that arenâ€™t.
An ancillary issue to this is that of cover mounts. I regularly hear the negatively framed comment: â€˜gamers (perhaps casual gamers) only buy mag X for the coverdiscâ€™. And thatâ€™s a bad thing? No, of course itâ€™s not. You know what, I couldnâ€™t be further embedded in the arse of magazines if I tried, but I arrived at this position because I just wanted to play some games. (My interest in writing has long had a different focus.) As a moderately well off adolescent, the best way to get my hands on games was from coverdiscs of various magazines. Initially it didnâ€™t matter which magazine, but later it was Amiga Power and the PC Gamer. The coverdisc lured me in and I stayed for the humorous banter and excellent reviews. The games taught me about themselves, while the magazine taught me about what other people think about games, and how to talk about them. That is the lesson: we come for the free goodies, and we stay if the magazine attached to them grabs and focuses and vocalises our appetite for gaming. You get more out of a subject if you have a larger vocabulary (however straightforward) for talking about it. Arguably Amiga Power transformed me from casual gamer, one who simply enjoyed games and never really thought more about it than that, to hardcore gamer, who lives, breaths and sometimes eats games. If there had been a decent magazine about drugs, philosophy, beat poets and ambient electronica (perhaps with a free bong on the cover) well, I might not have been writing this today.
Thereâ€™s a hell of a lot wrong with the scene I work in, and I sometimes stand on a box to shout about it, but it bugs me to hell when other people stand on boxes and shout about entirely the wrong thing. Weâ€™ll get this right, we just need to keep working at it. Other people can give up if they want, let The Man make all the mistakes, but I want to keep going, and make some of my own.
In other news: weâ€™re all addicted to World of Warcraft. Admittedly eight out of ten people in my world are games journalists, but that doesnâ€™t alter the fact that my game-hating girlfriend had to be prised away from her Undead Warlock at 3am so that we could actually function like the Undead people-with-work-to-do when we woke up this morning. If it hadnâ€™t been for several repetitious deaths and an unpleasant encounter with a giant spider, I donâ€™t think my lady could have been removed from it at all.
Which I think is scaring a few people. Itâ€™s remarkably addictive, and those of us normally able to show restraint when it comes to games have admitted defeat and played for fourteen hours a day whenever we can sidestep doing anything constructive. The reason this worries anyone is that the game is so deeply flawed. Itâ€™s a PC classic in that sense: brilliantly constructed and annoyingly broken. As I type Iâ€™ve realised that I simply canâ€™t be bothered to go into all the things that are worn with it (Iâ€™d really rather dwell on all the things that are right with it) but I do want to say one last thing.
World of Warcraft is a rich, lavish and beautifully engineered work of game cleverness, but it does have some gaping problems. I considered (just then as I leaned back in my chair and put hand to chin) about writing about the difference between talent and genius and the way that manifests in games, but thatâ€™s as waste of time and I need to have some breakfast. To the point: there are quite a few people out there who simply wonâ€™t entertain criticisms of the great game. Cobbett and Walker have both fought running battles with these people, who inadvertantly reveal the root of the word â€˜fanâ€™ as they collapse back into raving fanaticism. Yeah, we all want the things that we sinking hundreds of hours of our lives into to be brilliant and perfect, and itâ€™s always better for that conscience of ours if we redescribe it as such. But the fact is: Warcraft is hamstrung but some uniquely awful design (poor aggro management, stupid baddy respawning, crappy grouping, poor comms, queues, lag, terrible instancing)â€¦ and I just canâ€™t stop playing it. It’s all too human.
Perhaps that is genius.