BoRT: I Blog, Therefore I Am (What, Exactly?)

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to participate in Critical Distance’s “Blogs of the Round Table” feature, but since this month’s question hits me right where I live, I feel like I’ve gotta jump in:

What is the future of videogame blogging? Has it been usurped by social media and YouTube pundits, or is it still thriving? Is a one-sided conversation one worth having?

On his blog Only a GameChris Bateman summarises a recent ‘blog moot’ between several bloggers. Should blogs be about “exploring my own issues in a semi-public forum” as Corvus Elrod muses, or “something like an 18th century Salon… serious chat with nice folks” as Chris Lepine claims at The Artful Gamer?

Much like the last time I did one of these things, I’m torn between wanting to give what I think is the right answer on behalf of all videogame bloggers everywhere, and how I actually feel – which may or may not speak for anybody else.  In this particular case, I think I’ve got to opt with option 2.

Let me start at the beginning, then, and explain why I felt compelled to start a blog in the first place.

*     *     *

I started running a LiveJournal back in 2000, but didn’t start a videogame blog until 2004, when Gamespot unveiled their blog feature.  I seem to recall wanting to start the blog as some sort of soapbox for ranting and raving about stupid videogame industry shit (in those days, my ire was mostly directed at EA), but in re-reading those old entries, it’s much less of the ranting and a lot more of just day-to-day, “here’s what I’m playing and what I think of it” kind of stuff, which (for whatever reason) I felt compelled to keep separate from my other, day-to-day blogging.

Well, but hold on a second – the “for whatever reason” in the above paragraph is kind of key, as it turns out.  The reason I felt compelled to keep the game blog separate is because, in 2004, I felt like being a 29-year-old gamer was something shameful, and needed to be kept hidden.  To the outsider, videogames were not something to be taken seriously; the stereotypical gamer was either a 13-year-old brat calling you a fag over XboxLive, wholly unaware of irony as he teabagged your corpse in Halo, or a 30-year-old, mother’s-basement-dwelling shut-in playing World of Warcraft for weeks at a time.

And that’s just what I assumed non-gamers thought of me.  Actual gamers were much worse.  I had eventually managed to find a tight-knit group on the Gamespot forums, but that’s because we were all jonesing for some civilized discourse – commenters on most game sites are were just as vile and troll-ish as they were online.  It was impossible to carry a coherent conversation without a bunch of jackasses ruining it for everybody else.

*     *     *

Further to that “for whatever reason” thing above – this is from Tom Bissell’s Grantland piece about The Last of Us:

Despite the yada yada of video games’ growing cultural prominence, the amount of money they make (and lose), and the simple reality that maybe no creative medium has ever moved further faster, most people don’t take video games very seriously. I realize this comes as a shock to precisely no one who doesn’t play video games. Sometimes the fact that games are written off as adolescent nonsense bugs me. Sometimes it doesn’t, because a lot of games — a lot of great games — are adolescent nonsense. And sometimes I think that the worst thing to happen to video games would be for them to get taught widely in schools and reviewed in The New Yorker. As the novelist and critic (and gamer!) John Lanchester once wisely noted, “Respectability is a terrible thing for any art form. People wrote better novels when the cultural status of the novel was contested.”

*     *     *

9 years and 3 urls later, I’m still trying to figure out why I keep doing this.

I’d like to say it’s because I’m trying to “be a part of the conversation”, but the thing about having a blog is that it is, by definition, a monologue.   If I ask questions in my posts, they’re generally rhetorical in nature; I’m not doing this for the feedback.  Sometimes, I’m working out my own critical thinking in this space; other times I’m responding to the analyses of other critics; more often than not, I’m simply trying to keep track of what I’m playing and what I’m thinking about what I’m playing.

This idea of a “blog moot” / “bloot” is interesting to me, though.  Like Chris Bateman says:

… not all blogging is about community. My problem, and presumably Chris Lepine’s as well, is that right now none of the blogging is about community, which is a serious step down from where we were not that many years ago. So the situation going forward needs to be to leave the door open for community, when it is appropriate.

My first real blogging experience was on LiveJournal, which very much was a community.  Sure, it was primarily a place for me (and others) to vent about stupid shit and to navel gaze, but I quickly found a group of people who were venting and navel gazing about the same things, and so even though we were still just monologuing, we were doing it together.  It wasn’t nearly as cacophonous as it sounds.

Is it possible to get a gamer-blog network up and running?  Our own private Tumblr?  Where it would be easier for game bloggers to find each other, to read each other, and to communicate with one another?  Or does turning it into just another social network defeat the larger purpose?

(I think I’m going to continue this in a second post; for now, I want to send this off and see what happens.)

[This post is written for the July 2013 round of Blogs of the Round Table; read other submissions here:]

moving on

“Hey everybody it’s Tuesday…”

Still trying to process yesterday’s tragic news.  The internet’s collective outpouring of love, support and grief went a long way  And of course now I’m wondering if there will be a Bombcast today, and, if so, whether I’ll be able to handle it.

As for things bumming me out that actually directly affect my life, today is doubly tough because it was my son’s first day of day care.  I had to drop him off before I left for work, and he was already unhappy before I finished getting him out of the stroller.   I peeked through the window right before I left, and he was sitting on one of the older women’s laps, crying, not wanting the offered pacifier.   Broke my heart to leave him, but I was already running late for work.

In any event, it seems a bit harder than usual to talk about videogames, so I’m going to cut-and-paste and re-write a draft from last week that I never got around to finishing, and maybe that will help me get back on track.

*     *     *

Finished Call of Juarez: Gunslinger [July 1st].  That’s a fun little game, I have to say.  I may have made this comparison before; it’s Bastion plus Bulletstorm in the Old West, which is a better-sounding combo than you’d think.  It took me about 5 hours to get through the story, and while it really wasn’t towards the end of the game that I started to feel like I was getting good at it, I still had a pretty good time overall.   Certainly worth picking up in a Summer Sale, if such an offering is available, but even at $20 it’s money well spent.

*     *     *

I also managed to finish The Last of Us over the long weekend.  I finished it on “Easy”, and I understand from reading other TLOU articles that doing so prevented me from really feeling the game, but I don’t buy that; the game was plenty difficult even on Easy, because Clickers will always one-hit kill you, and sometimes the PS3 controller doesn’t do what I ask of it.  I’m guessing the biggest advantage in Easy was that I had more ammo, but I still generally tried to stealth my way around whenever possible.

It’s a remarkable experience (that opening sequence is one of the best of all time), and it’s certainly a landmark technical achievement (certainly in the top 5 best-looking/sounding games of this generation), and yet it’s also a game that I don’t think I want to play again.  It’s too dark, too soul-crushing, too depressing; I’m glad I experienced it the first time, but I don’t see what I would gain through a second playthrough beyond finding all the hidden collectibles – and one does not play The Last of Us to find hidden collectibles.

*     *     *

I mentioned this at the bottom of one of last week’s posts; I’ve gotten back into Need For Speed Most Wanted, which is surprising given how disappointed I was when I tried playing it on the 360 last year.  The PC experience is a completely different beast, however; it is absolutely gorgeous, for one thing, and the game experience feels a lot more polished and smooth than the 360 version.  And so now that it’s working the way it’s supposed to, I’m finally able to appreciate what Criterion was trying to do.

I think I was always going to be disappointed after it first launched, because even without the technical problems I was having on the 360, my primary issue was always that I really wanted NFSMW to be Burnout Paradise 2, and because it wasn’t, I couldn’t really judge it fairly and objectively.  The Need for Speed brand meant nothing to me, and my intense love of all things Criterion couldn’t save me from eventually walking away from the (still-excellent) Hot Pursuit.

But now that I’ve had a few months to forget about my first run and can finally see it with clearer eyes, I’m actually pretty impressed.  If anything, it’s a lot more like Burnout Paradise than I was willing to give it credit for – and I might even argue that it’s got a better (or at least more intuitive) career progression than BoP.

Sometimes I get intimidated by non-linear games – I mean, I appreciate that I have all this freedom, but unless I’m doing something constructive I feel lost and/or overwhelmed.  (This is why Skyrim‘s quests will always be more appealing to me than Minecraft‘s sandbox.)  What I do appreciate, though, is that even if you’re not racing, there’s still lots of side things to do – security gates to crash, hidden cars to unlock, billboards to jump through.  And in the meantime, if you actually want to advance in the game, there’s lots of ways to do that – each car you find has its own series of races to complete (with noticeable performance-improving incentives for finishing 1st), and once you accumulate enough of whatever the XP equivalent is, you can engage in the game’s version of Boss Battles.

I’m spending too long talking about a game that came out last year that nobody else is playing, but still – if it shows up on sale (and I happened to pick it up for $15 during an Amazon Digital Download sale), it’s a damn fun time – especially (as I noted above) if you’re playing on PC, which is miles ahead of the 360 version.

*     *     *

Finally, I can’t not talk about the GTA V gameplay trailer that came out this morning.  Obviously, if you’re reading this post you’ve already watched it, but just in case you want to watch it again:

I don’t really know what else to say about it, other than I love how Rockstar’s been doing these “informercial”-ish trailers for the last few years.  (I seem to recall Red Dead Redemption getting this sort of treatment, and certainly Max Payne 3 had some as well.)

And I suppose I could point out that it appears as if they’re adapting certain elements of RDR’s combat system, which is very good news indeed.  (One of the reasons why RDR remains one of my favorite games of all time is because the gunplay was immensely fun and satisfying in all the ways that GTA IV‘s was not.)

And while I don’t necessarily see this game getting as far-out crazy as San Andreas did (i.e., I’d be very surprised to see a jetpack), it certainly does look as though they’re incorporating a lot more of the side stuff that made San Andreas as compulsively playable as it was (i.e., tennis, parasailing, long-distance cycling, etc.).  As long as there’s no David Cross-narrated model plane combat side mission, we’re good to go.

%d bloggers like this: