I decided – for the benefit of those poor unfortunates who have stumbled upon this website and are desperately searching for escape – that I would provide information on other, better video game writers and articles that have inspired and continue to inspire me. This list is a constant work-in-progress, and names and articles will continue to be added as I remember/discover them.
Riley MacLeod is a brilliant writer. His piece “The queer masculinity of stealth games” is a breathtaking piece of work that I find myself coming back to time and time again. One should have to, by law, read it every time you believe that video games are dead. It reminds me just how personal and how niche and how fundamentally cool criticism (of games or otherwise) can be, and how personal and how niche and how fundamentally cool MacLeod is as a writer. The whole piece is a tour-de-force, a study of masculinity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and stealth game mechanics all rolled into one, and not a single element feels out of place. It’s the kind of work that should be carved on the side of a mountain, so all ye mighty can look upon it and despair. It’s the kind of work that I want to stick on my wall so I can never forget what games criticism can achieve. It’s the kind of work that’s forced me to make good on my promise, and I’m literally going to blu-tack it to my wall when I’m finished writing this (update: it has been done). In short, it’s good.
“[Stealth games] tell us we don’t have to equate masculinity with brutality. They tell us we can be someone else.”
Tim Rogers hasn’t written about video games for a good long while now (he’s been too busy making them,), but his writings as a part of the so-called “New Games Journalism” movement remain breathtaking and inspirational in equal measure. insert credit is long gone now, but there’s two pieces Rogers wrote for it many years ago that I wish to call to attention: “dreaming in an empty room”(a defense of Metal Gear Solid 2), and “life, non-warp” (a memoir of Super Mario Bros. 3). But, in my eyes, his analysis of Metal Gear Solid 4 (unfortunately unrecoverable at the time of writing) remains his finest work, simply because he both completely obliterated the legacy of “dreaming in an empty room”, and utterly infuriated all the right people.
“Finality has a history of making one cry. This one was pretty potent. It was like the last line of a Haruki Murakami story:
Without fail, I will play this game for the rest of my life.
It meant I would never grow up.”
Leigh Alexander has moved on from writing about video games for a variety of reasons – her absence is a loss to us all, and the work that she left behind is to be ignored at our peril. Her work wasn’t just brave; it transcended bravery. Alexander exposed all the faults and follies of a medium with so much left to learn, and squared off against the toxic faux-culture that claimed to represent it. And won. The amount of beautiful games and groundbreaking artists she revealed to me, I mean, man…I will forever remain grateful that I got to be around at the same time as Leigh Alexander. What a bloody hero. Did I and do I always agree with her? No, of course not, and the same goes for everyone else on this list. We all have different opinions; sometimes they’re even diametrically opposed. But when someone’s opinions are so well-argued, so thoughtful, so energetic…who cares what I think?
“Developers and writers alike want games about more things, and games by more people. We want — and we are getting, and will keep getting — tragicomedy, vignette, musicals, dream worlds, family tales, ethnographies, abstract art. We will get this, because we’re creating culture now. We are refusing to let anyone feel prohibited from participating.”
Errant Signal blew my stupid younger mind when I first watched it, and continues to blow my stupid current-age mind on a regular basis. Chris Franklin managed to successfully change my entire perception of those weird interactive things that live inside our computers for good. His work is consistently thoughtful, humanistic, witty and truthful, and always kicks against the pricks. I’ve always had trouble writing at length about the things I truly love, simply because there’s so much to say and I remain afraid I’ll forget to say something. But let it be known that I love Errant Signal, and the man responsible for it. We’d be poorer without him.
“Politics isn’t some alien subject coming in and invading our precious games and games writing with its harmful presence. It’s already here. Hell, it’s been here, from the abhorrent racism of Custer’s Revenge to the Western jingoism of Call of Duty, from the anti-nuclear stance of Chris Crawford’s Balance of Power to the anti-nuclear stance of DEFCON […] Games are and have been political, carrying messages about the worldview of their developers whether they intended them or not. […] when someone tries to bring up a game’s politics – whether it’s in a review, a criticism, or simply a forum post or Twitter comment – the response shouldn’t be a childish meltdown about how games aren’t political and to stop taking things so seriously. To do so is to insist that games don’t have the capacity to be political. We can’t have it both ways. Either games are expressive and they need to be responsible for what they express, or they’re just games and of no cultural consequence. You know which way I lean in that debate. What about you?”
Moving away from games criticism for a moment, Cool Games Inc. is a fantastic podcast that lulls me to sleep on insomniac nights, keeps me company during dull commutes, and reminds me to stop taking stupid video games so bloody seriously.