Friday, August 15, 2014

On videogame personal essays

I've been reading some of the Games Journalism 2013 shortlist ebook on my e-reader while exercising. First off, it is such a different experience to read games journalism in book-like form. If I feel a little bored, I can't immediately close the tab and start reading something else. So I'm a captive audience. I enjoy most of the articles too, especially the ones that focus on the psychology of videogames, like the one about freemium whales (users who spend lots of money on premium content in free games). There are some close readings of games, and also a fair amount of what I'd call personal essays centered around videogames.

Recently Jonas Kyratzes and Dan Cox (see the comments) mentioned how they're tired of these videogame personal essays. I know in other places people have said that such essays aren't journalism, or that the experience of reading them is unsatisfying. I agree that a personal essay is more like creative writing than journalism. I like reading personal essays about videogames though! I feel like reflecting on the experiences we have in games legitimizes them. It makes me feel better about playing games in my free time. 

I also think that the videogame personal essay is much more accessible than close analysis. Someone who has never played the game you're talking about can still enjoy a personal essay about playing it. It's a little more difficult to engage a naive reader in a technical discussion of a game's design points. For example, I skipped the piece in the games journalism e-book about silent hill savepoints, because it had spoilers for the series, and also because I wasn't sure if I'd really understand the analysis, since I've never played a Silent Hill game (even though I'm pretty sure I've read an article about how awful those save points are). I think this is why the most successful "close readings" of games are often focused on games that are already popular. 

On the other hand, a skillful writer can make game design analysis interesting, usually through the use of diagrams and screenshots. But man, those things are a lot of work! Especially since there isn't a way to take screenshots on the PS3/Wii in the console's software (but even if there were, it would still be a pain to move the files somewhere I could use them). Some day I will do a great game analysis complete with screenshots. 

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