The Future of Videogame Logging

See what I did there?

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:]