In an interesting self-reflectional turn, blog discussions about the nature and future of blogging have recently been reopened in certain corners of the internet. I contributed a little bit to the discussion with my earlier musing on the nature of online conversation, and Chris Bateman has summarised some of the thoughts gathered in our ‘bloot’ (blog-moot) in his wrap-up post. In short: I’m convinced that meaningful online conversation is possible, about any subject, but that it requires investment of time and attention, as well as convenient technology. What I want to focus on this time is videogame blogging in particular. This month’s theme on Blogs of the Round Table (hosted by Critical Distance) is “Blogception: What is the future of videogame blogging?”. Before I want to say something about the possible futures, we should turn to the current state of videogame of blogging.
Although I am far from being an experienced blogger or writer on the subject of videogames, I would like to say in all modesty that I think the current state of videogame blogging is pretty good! I’ve been reading a lot of posts from different voices over the past few years and my general impression is that videogame blogging has become (or is becoming) a diverse body of work with input from many different kinds of people. This diversity lies in several personal dimensions including gender, sexuality, and ethnicity, but also in dimensions of approach: experiential, technical, academical, art historical, to name just a few possible ones. The diversity is especially apparent when compared to the awkward ‘old boys’ feel (for lack of a better word) that clings to the dynamic between many of the big online publications and their readers and commenters. A notable exception is the excellent Rock Paper Shotgun, where that dynamic is more inclusive (though not perfect). What I basically want to say is: videogame blogging is a diverse discourse, and I believe that diversity — a multitude of perspectives — is key to more meaningful reflection on any subject, including games.
What, then, is blogging anyway? At the risk of stating the obvious, I would like to distinguish three types of internet writing that I would call blogging: solo, group, and edited blogging. Solo blogging is what I do here, and what many other people do on their own website: creating a body of my own reflections and writings. Group blogging collects such writings from different people, usually around a particular theme. Edited blogging is group blogging, but with the added step of one or more editors going over all the writings, plus the added possibility of occasional guest writings, which seems less common for a group blog, let alone a solo blog. Edited blogging is also a bit of a slower process because of that extra editing step, which blurs the line between edited blogging and online magazines, a point to which I will return later.
While I am not interested in sharply delineating blogs (or most things, for that matter), I think there are a few unique sides to blogging that make it a valuable text genre, as I also mentioned in my earlier article on blogging. Blogs occupy something of a sweet spot between the instantaneousness of tweets and other social media microtexts and the slow turnover time of a reviewed journal article or even a book. Blogs are often of a suitable ‘longread’ length, but much quicker to produce and publish than more ponderous texts. On the other hand, obviously, they potentially hold much more interesting thoughts than a few tweets, and besides, the organisation of those thoughts is more straightforward in a longer text. The personal touch is common to blogs and social media messages though, and makes both more intimate than refereed articles — though books can be highly personal too! Finally, writing on a blog has the advantage over other genres that it is arguably the best place to foster meaningful interactions. While communication over social media is quickly set up, it can be difficult to maintain, and it can be even more difficult to structure and organise the discussion (although Storify helps!). I think discussion via blog comments and blog posts replying to each other still has the most potential for interesting and meaningful online conversations: like intimate letter writing, but public.
Please forgive my sidetrack into dull blogging meta-blogging, and let’s return to videogame meta-blogging. As I said, I think the state of videogame blogging is pretty good, especially compared to some other areas of videogame conversation. However, this would be an utterly pointless bunch of words if there weren’t any aspects that I think could be improved. Although I praised the diversity of voices and perspectives in videogame blogging, I think we could go further still. One point is language, which is of course a personal attention point of mine. The dominant language in online conversation about games is English, for obvious reasons. However, this excludes the voices of those who can’t speak English or who can do so only on a level that inhibits in-depth conversation with people who are more proficient in English. The solution to this should not just be thrust onto the shoulders of those whose English isn’t up to scrap: those of us who are multilingual (probably more than you think!) should be actively seeking out interesting games blogging in other languages, and translating or summarising it into English. This correlates nicely with geographical diversity. While America and Europe (OK, Australia et al. too!) are obviously hotspots of videogame activity, it would be interesting to hear about gaming in other countries. Japan is an obvious example of a country and videogame culture that is highly relevant, but which is somewhat underrepresented in English and European videogame writing. I’m not just talking about Japanese games, of course, but also about videogame culture in Japan, and particularly videogame writing from Japan. The same goes for many other places: what about China, Russia, Korea, India, Latin America? The list goes on.
Another dimension of perspectives that I’ve been missing is that of religious differences. While there are gaming blogs from a religious perspective, religion is often not an overt theme in gaming analysis, while there is much worth saying on the topic. This was the main reason why I suggested running a religion theme month over at The Ontological Geek. It would be good to see more overt religious analysis in games blogging, whether that means analysing games from a religious (or irreligious) perspective, or an analysis of religion in games.
Further improvement can be made in the area of conversation. Is blogging a “one-sided conversation” as BoRT editor Alan Williamson wrote in his theme description for this month? It doesn’t have to be! This was one of the main points of our bloot mentioned at the start of the article. We need to foster communication between blogs and bloggers, so that we will not only have diversity, but also a meaningful exchange within that diversity. As I said, I think all we need is an open mind, an investment of time and attention in the writing of others, and an RSS reader. Of course, staying in touch over Twitter is fine too, as long as we don’t ignore the long-form writing on our blogs. Curation also helps, and edited blogs and curation blogs like Critical Distance are great ways of getting to know the blogs of other people, which may lead to more interaction.
A final point concerning the possible improvement of videogame blogging is a big question mark, and it concerns relevance. How relevant is videogame blogging anyway? I am in a difficult position to judge, as this is just a hobby for me. How relevant is blogging to videogame journalism, scholarship, and development? Perhaps not all of it is, but that’s not a huge problem. Some conversations are worth having for the conversation alone, just like having friends over or chatting over beer or a cup of tea. At the same time, relevance may lie in the networks that connect blogging to those other areas. The conversations and thoughts developed in a blogging community are readily transmitted to a wider domain. This is because many bloggers are also journalists, game scholars, or devs. These people are in the position to distil insights from the blogging community and apply them in their other field(s). Like I said, I can’t judge how relevant blogging is in that respect at the moment — probably most relevant for journalism and criticism — but I believe there is potential here.
I already mentioned how edited blogs sometimes blur into magazine territory, especially in the cases where writers are paid for their trouble. This is an area where blogging informs journalism and vice-versa. Blogs also have lots of potential to cross over into the territory of game scholarship. An excellent example is First Person Scholar, a weekly blog(esque) site, who incidentally recently promoted the idea of the ‘middle-state publication’, a place somewhere between blog and scholarly journal. They too, see value in the increased interaction between different fields, and ultimately people themselves have to be more interdisciplinary. The linked article argues convincingly for game scholars to take a more active role in both blogging and game development. Another fruitful cross-over is blogging by game developers. By writing about their experiences designing and developing games, they give other writers key insight into games from an artistic and technical perspective, which can inform new ways of writing and thinking about the medium.
So, what is the future of videogame blogging? I think it looks good; what we need is more of the same, with gradual improvements. Blogging has the potential to tie people from many different fields and backgrounds together into meaningful conversations, and the potential to be the beating heart of the international game community. What we need is an increasing integration of diverse people into the conversation, and an increasing integration between our modes of writing: social media, blogging, magazines, journals, and books.
P.S. If you’re curious: in the cover picture is a John Deere Hexapod Logging Machine. Clearly the future is already upon us.
[This post was written for the July 2013 round of Blogs of the Round Table; read other submissions here:]