I’m not unintelligent; I just choose to be stupid: My dumbed-down future for (a bit of) video game blogging

The below writing contains mildly graphic descriptions of adolescent activities and the odd swearer.

I’ve been moaning about not reading enough since my early teens, which now means that I’ve not read enough for more years than those when I actually read enough. Although, it’s been so long since then that now I’m not really sure if I ever did do the thing that I think I don’t do enough of now. Which might explain my inability to construct an inviting opening paragraph, not that two lines really constitutes a notable introduction anyway.
Instead of reading those ‘books’ - or anything else for that matter -  I did fun things like drinking and having barbeques in places adolescents aren’t allowed to have barbeques. I started smoking cigarettes, listening to loud, obnoxious music and learned to be ‘intimate’ with women. I played video games and attended house parties. I sometimes read reviews to find out what video games to buy, and then I played video games. I expelled a wide array of bodily fluids in an even wider array of socially-unacceptable places. I saw a friend receive a blowjob in the middle of a garden party. I consumed bodily fluids that weren’t my own. I saw the aforementioned friend receive blowjobs in public on a number of other occasions. I shit myself multiple times. I did all this while still at school, when I should have been reading and expanding my mind, and to what end?

There doesn’t appear to have been one to tell the truth. I finally started reading for pleasure again when I bought one of those kindle things. It neatly removed my major misgivings about books; namely their cost and weight and replaced them with good old digital ingenuity. I went back to games writing when I realised the people doing it were now saying more than ‘buy this game because it is pretty good’ or ‘don’t buy this game because it is pretty bad’. It seems though that lots of the most interesting things being written about games are produced by people who didn’t spend a decade of their youth doing stupid and ultimately fruitless ‘shitting’ about. Not that I assume the things featured weekly in compendiums such as Critical Distance are being written by housebound boffins without a solitary human experience to rub between them. Quite the contrary actually; they highlight how stimulating being a ‘well rounded human being’ can actually prove to be.

I often find pieces of genuinely well-written games criticism intimidating, which puts me in an awkward position. I am the first to agree that games, as a readily flourishing medium, deserve to be treated with respect and discussed intelligently and with a reasonable degree of depth. At the same time, however, when presented with writing fitting this very description I sometimes find that it goes a little over my head or even worse, I simply don’t really ‘get’ what the author is trying to say. This is, of course, entirely my own fault.
Part of the problem is that I’ve never really enjoyed formal academic writing on the arts, in so much as I find it to be somewhat at odds with its subject matter. Art of any kind elicits a different response from whoever consumes it; at least I feel that conclusion can be safely drawn. It is the pervasive idea that references to past theories and interpretations somehow makes a writer’s opinion more intellectually valid that really rubs on me, as it did all the way through my degree. I see it more as a test of character than of genuine intellect; being able to read and select appropriate citations is not particularly difficult, actually being bothered to do so is where the real discipline lies.

I am in no way, though, saying that all worthwhile writing about games is bogged down in the trappings of stuffy academia. However, it does seem that the more rigidly a good piece about games adheres to the academic template, the more admiration it receives. This is fine I suppose, but I can’t help but think that games aren’t quite like any artistic medium we’ve encountered before – however much that sentiment has already echoed throughout history – and that it can’t be satisfactorily covered by existing paradigms.

I want to make it unreservedly clear that I really enjoy reading in and around the blogs featured on Critical Distance and the wider internet world. I just wish it wasn’t all so - well - serious so much of the time. I find it a bit tiring and have to take a break after a couple of articles, so sweaty does my brain become from all the exertion it needs to go through to keep up. Again, my fault I know, but surely there are authors of note writing about video games from a slightly different perspective? I’ve not been following Critical Distance for years and years, but it certainly does appear to lean heavily towards scholarly writing by design, leaving other approaches a bit in the cold. (Blogs of the Round Table is obviously a bit different.)

I think my biggest problem though, if I’m being honest, is with myself and those choice years I spent pissing all over things and laughing at dick jokes. In his response to Chris Lepine’s The Day the Music Died Alan Williamson noted that people simply don’t respond to articles published in Fiveout of Ten magazine, the quarterly he features in and edits. Quite simply put; I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so. They are better than me and I have no place commenting on, never mind critiquing, their work.
I pitched Alan once, it was terrible. I’d been writing about games for about six months (haha) and getting a decent response on forums and the late Bitmob.com and thought I was about ready to step up my game (haha-ha). That experience taught me that no, I wasn’t in a position to think I was any good and especially any good at the more professional/social parts of games writing. I’d imagine a lot of the people who would like to, but are not starting a dialogue with the authors in Five out of Ten are in a similarly self-deprecating position.

Here we have people writing intelligently about games, albeit a little too stuffily for me on occasion, creating thought-provoking copy and seeing things in games I’ve never even fathomed. Then we have me; an individual who fell out with intellectualism in favour of mindless juvenility, who has only recently begun to again give mind to anything in any depth, never mind video games. Simply put; I don’t feel comfortable interacting with the ‘proper’ writers because I don’t see myself as one yet and so don’t feel ‘ready’ to start a discourse with them. Though neither am I simply a denizen of the forum-lands, where conversations rage like wildfires and can swing from pleasant to not-so-pleasant in seconds. I therefore find myself in, as I said earlier, an awkward position; I am neither - and this may well be gross oversimplification - 'highbrow' like the writers I read, nor 'lowbrow' like the wider internet crowds I’ve rarely fully understood. I reckon then, that modern games blogging might benefit from a midbrow where topics are discussed smartly but not too smartly, in depth but not too deeply; essentially, like you would discuss them - but more like me
However silly that may sound I do think it is an idea with merit. As a newer writer within the field I think I’d benefit from being a larger part of discussions, but more importantly it would be nice to actually have my writing read. I’m not saying that it is great by any stretch, although I do think it has its merits. Inviting less experienced and/or less confident writers to join the community alongside the better ones would, I strongly feel, greatly enhance it and the varieties of discourse generated. I am therefore not really suggesting we dumb-down video game blogging, simply that we broaden the criteria of what is deemed noteworthy and give less experienced writers - yes, like myself - a shot of confidence on the way. Obviously standards still need to be in place lest discussions devolve into madness but I’m confident that a balance can be struck. I earlier mentioned Bitmob.com and think that was a prime example of how an initiative like this can be a success. Community pieces featured there were written by amateur writers and usually displayed a bit less depth than the typical This Week in Videogame Blogging selection, though were often still very stimulating. When the site was rolled into the VentureBeat umbrella the focus was shifted away from amateurs and their content and a great outlet for them was neutered. I think the time is right to provide a new place for the slightly less able or confident to have their work read and critiqued alongside more established writers and that the blogging community can only be enriched by their different approaches and continuing improvement.

Maybe call it Kidz Korner or something similarly fitting, I’m sure that would sit perfectly with the current tone of Critical Distance.

This was written in response to Critical Distance's July Blogs of the Round Table. The other (better) entries into the debate can be found below.