Blogging time: framing the conversation

For a while now, some commentators have been following a thread of time. Leigh Alexander wrote of a Compulsion Loop, while Michael Abbott’s most recent post urges us to Chew Our Food. These are reflections on an industry used to (or perhaps becoming ever more accustomed to) a fast cycle of pre-release hype/release/postmortem/ad finitum. This occurs across all segments of the gaming populace, from your average gamer to blogs to the press. I’ll leave it to others to argue the problems of this kind of cycle; suffice to say, I agree with them.

I’m a newcomer to the blog world, but I’m working my way through gaming academia and have been doing some mainstream writing for a while now. As a newcomer, or outsider, however you want to put it, it seems to me that blogs represent a great chance – perhaps the greatest chance – for changing such a cycle.

There was a lot of rubbish thrown around about blogs in the early years of the internet, and there still is. They are not the most revolutionary media practice since the invention of paper, and while in isolated bursts they have caused major change, most will still turn to a good old fashioned printed newspaper for news and opinion first.

The power of blogging therefore rests largely in agenda setting, and this is where the gaming blogs come in. Blogs have a trickle-down effect on mainstream media, and therefore on what is discussed. Many popular ‘thoughtful’ gaming blogs, like The Brainy Gamer and Man Bytes Blog sometimes get linked at larger blogging sites like Kotaku. This, in turn, influences not only a wide variety of gaming-types who depend on Kotaku and Joystiq for news, but it impacts on the kinds of discussions that the mainstream press have – not necessarily in the pages of magazines, but at the water cooler, over lunch, and on forums. Eventually, people end up sharing opinions that probably began as analysis in a blog they’ve never even heard of.

Take BioShock for example. There now seems to be a feeling that while it was a great game, it’s probably now best consigned to the not-quite-perfect box of 2007. This opinion was not one shared by the mainstream press at release: it’s currently on a metacritic score of 96, with over 30 perfect scores. Yet somewhere along the line, many of us decided that, no, BioShock actually has its fair share of imperfections. When did this happen?

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if he wasn’t the first, Clint Hocking’s Ludonarrative Dissonance in BioShock was one of the first widely-linked criticisms of the game. I know it influenced my opinion of the game, and at that stage I was only writing ‘hard’ news. A year later and I still agree with him. Admittedly, Hocking is also a major content producer as well as a blogger, so his voice certainly had extra clout. Nonetheless, it’s worth casting your mind back: was it around this period that the first substantial problems of the game became widely analysed and discussed? It’s a chicken-and-egg question as to whether it happened because of blog-style analysis, or whether blogs were merely a reflection of a growing feeling many were experiencing. But it’s almost irrelevant as to who came first: the fact is that blogs remain the loudest voices in such scenarios. What mainstream media outlet or enthusiast press editor is going to sign off on a feature article critiquing a videogame that was reviewed only one or two months earlier? If not necessarily first to the subject, blogs were the first location that many found criticisms of BioShock through.

I’m not saying that blogs are at the top of this gaming media pile. Certainly, bloggers are enormously influenced by mainstream media and PR types; cultural influence is always a sphere with different power relations, rather than any top-down or bottom-up flowchart. But there are two important points in favour of blogs that really allow agenda setting:

1. You only have yourself to answer to. Sure, the laws of defamation probably play a part as well, but I could write a blog post on any topic and not have to put it past even a copy editor first. I can critique a game on the day of release or two decades after the fact.

2. Blogs unite a hugely disjointed audience. Here in Australia, Marcus Westbury (quick plug: I interviewed him back in August) has been running his second series of Not Quite Art on ABC TV. You can’t legally watch it if you’re outside of Australia, but I heard there might be other ways of getting hold of the show, which is well worth it for those with an interest in ‘new media’. Anyway, in the first episode of the second series, Marcus tracks down a variety of online artists like Yahtzee and Jodi Rose. His basic point is also applicable to gaming blogs: the internet has allowed widely and thinly spread audiences to turn into massive ones. Only a small percentage of people around the globe would be interested in intelligent thoughts on videogames, for example. If The Brainy Gamer, or any number of the blogs along my sidebar were publishing in a local paper they might only get a small but very enthusiastic response. On the internet, however, those smaller numbers of people from each town turn into a massively global readership. And, through the trickle-down effect, it becomes even larger.

With this and the thoughts from Leigh Alexander and Michael Abbott at the start of this post in mind, I want to propose something. Let’s kick the blogosphere into reverse gear. If you have a blog, try and write an entry about a game that came out a year or so ago. Write about a game not old enough to be retro, but not new enough to be cutting edge. Write about Mass Effect‘s traditional Sci-Fi references. Write about Metroid Prime: Corruption‘s sense of social disconnection/connection. Write about Call of Duty 4‘s sentiment towards modern combat.

And please, if you, like me, have joined the conversation a little late, don’t hesitate to start from the beginning or the middle, and not just the end.

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7 Comments

Filed under Blogging, videogames

7 responses to “Blogging time: framing the conversation

  1. I was just commenting with Abbott via Twitter that in order to stave my excitement for Fallout 3 (delivery in the mail, though a midnight purchase was possible–I’m learning to curb this feeling of now, now, now), I wrote my latest entry concerning the game The Darkness and its intrinsic horror value. However, horror in terms of what you present to the world of the game, instead of any frightening aspects for you, the gamer. It felt like a breath of welcome relief with all the worry about the continuation of the ‘survival horror’ genre.

    I’ve already discussed with some friends how we’ll definitely have the initial discussion of games coming out, but I want to revisit these games and see if they’re just as compelling when we face the next onslaught of titles.

  2. catfishmaw

    This is especially poignant now, as we’re swamped with autumn releases. As a student, I can’t hope to buy more than one or two games a quarter, and keeping up with the latest thing is utterly beyond my scope.

    I only got into BioShock this month, and thus only recently blogged about it. I don’t think that coming late to the party devalues a blog post, even if it does make it less interesting to the Kotaku masses with short attention spans and fat wallets.

  3. Marcus Westbury is an absolute hero. Not Quite Art is about the only TV I watch.

    Great post, so much to think about.

  4. @catfishmaw What you need to do is what a friend and I have been doing lately and that is buy up all the 3 for $10 PSX games at the local EB Games. It’s like owning everything I’ve always wanted as a childe at less than a twentieth the original cost price!

  5. Hey Daniel, Nismo from PALGN here. First and foremost, it was/is great to see that you are commenting at a lot of the blogs I read. I may lurk more than comment (by the time I get to the posts, others have said what I was going to most of the time) but it is kind of cool to see someone I know (of) visiting the same places I do.

    Anyway with regards to this topic, something I have been considering doing the past few days is to have a notepad (or similar) next to me as I play through whatever game I am playing so I can write down anything and everything that comes to mind. I was thinking of doing this to help me come up with blog posts of my own (since I don’t seem to post as much on the PALGN forums these days), but the more I thought of it the more I realised that it could lead into quite a few different areas of thought about the game. Reading the various blogs that I do, I see the authors focusing on particular points and going in-depth with them and I really enjoy that. I would like to do the same but choosing what to focus on is something I feel I may struggle with – that’s irrelevant though, just having written down anything that comes to mind while playing through a game could lead to a lot of potential discussion (or even just thought) and that’s exciting to me.

    Especially when (due in part to being a completionist) I’m not on par with the industry when it comes to playing new releases. It was only in the last couple of months that I was (finally) able to play both Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty 4 for example. I’m lucky this year in that I can get quite a few of the games coming out (or are already out – I own Fable but have barely played it) but even so it might not be until a few months later before I can actually play and enjoy them the way I want to. Maybe the completionist aspect of my gaming actually hurts me when it comes to keeping up with everyone else, but as Michael Abbot’s ‘Chew Your Food’ post sort of detailed, it’s not actually a bad thing if you take time to enjoy a game for all it’s worth. After reading that post (and some others), I’ve certainly re-assessed how I approach my gaming and now I don’t think I care if it takes me forever to get around to say, Dead Space. All in good time, really.

    Anyway, long comment…

  6. Forgot to say that I also am happy to see that you have your own blog now. I’ve always enjoyed what you have written at PALGN, so to see more writing posted here is good to see. Looking forward to more of your blog posts.

    And also, apologies to Michael if he ends up reading my comment for forgetting a ‘t’ in his surname…

  7. Daniel Golding

    Thanks for all the thoughts, guys. Very interesting.

    @ Denis – yes, I think going back and reflecting on older titles is a very useful process. I was thinking just the other day that going back to the Wii’s launch title selection (esp. Red Steel) would be fascinating.

    @ Purvis – when I saw your posts I became extremely confused, as I didn’t remember posting that! I think we’re going to have to rely on last names around these over-Daniel-populated part of the woods…

    @ Nismo – thanks for dropping by! I’ll have to check out your blog. I agree that finding things to write about can be the hardest part, but persevere. I find myself agreeing with Roger Ebert more and more these days in that ‘The Muse visits during the process of creation, not before.’

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