Having read a post over at The Aimless Gamer (a place you should totally check out, by the way), I gotz to thinking about this whole blogging malarkey, and more specifically, what I find so compelling about bloggers and blogs. The Internet is vast, and the number of places in it reserved for gaming-related things is mahoosive, yet I find myself increasingly eschewing the more well-known of these sites in favour of smaller, blog-ey type ones. Why is that, I wondered? What is it about – for want of a better word – these amateur sites that I’m drawn to; why do I prefer to spend my time reading personal, largely unfunded sites rather than the massive, bells-and-whistles ones instead? I mean, the latter have innumerable advantages – from the size of their staff, to their links and access to the gaming establishment – and you’d expect those to trump the former most of the time, but (in my case at least) that’s not what’s happening at all. The first place I look to when I want to read about games/gaming is my WordPress Reader (and I often go on extended trips down the rabbithole from there), and to be honest, I barely even bother with your IGNs, Eurogamers etc anymore.
So, in the interests of, say, journalism, and just like all great scientific minds before me, I asked myself; what the fuck’s that all about, then!?
Right away – and at the risk of being all meta and shit – the fact that I was thinking about stuff (a feat I resoundingly failed to achieve through 12 years of formal education) was a pretty strong exhibit A, and the fact that I was then inspired to write something a fairly compelling exhibit B. Sure, it sounds glib – but think about it; when was the last time you were inspired, or made to think, by something you’d read on a big Gaming Site? Or, to flip-side-reverse-it, when was the last time you read a blog you follow and weren’t given something to think about? Quite often, I feel this is because Blog posts tend to be speculative, tentative, and – almost by definition – deeply subjective, whereas the output from the “big-hitters” tends towards being authoritative, unoriginal and – almost by default – bordering on the arrogant. There’s often an implied sense of a kind of ‘actually, we’re IGN, so, like, this is how shit is, and this is how you should think shit is, because, you know, we’re IGN, innit!?’.
To put it another way, whenever I read a blog there’s a fair chance that I’ll feel like I’m part of a conversation, or being given an opportunity to share in an ongoing process, but with the “big guys”, I tend to feel like I’m being given a definitive answer to a subject that’s now closed. Moreover, when that does “inspire” a response or reaction from me, it’s usually along the lines of ‘ What the fuck are you on about, mate?’, or ‘I think we’re playing a different game, sunshine, because that thing you’ve just given a 10 to is, quite frankly, a load of old balls…‘. Plenty of times I’ve read reviews on blogs, and even though I haven’t agreed with the overall conclusion, I’ve understood why they’ve reached it (and where, for example, we diverged in our opinion), and I’ve never felt like I was some sort of heathen, or eejit, simply because I had the audacity to not agree with x, y, or z. To be clear, I’m not necessarily just talking about subjectivity here, and I’m not really suggesting that IGN, etc are maliciously, knowingly offering up skewed reviews and the like (that’s a can of worms best left for another day when I can afford legal representation), but more that where blogs embrace their level of subjectivity, or personal experience – often even thrive on it – most of the pieces on big Gaming sites tend to go to great lengths to sound authoritative, or (somewhat laughably) objective, and that can seem all different kinds of arrogant as a result.
The upshot of all of this is that, actually, I’m more inclined to read and believe reviews, editorials, think-pieces etc from bloggers, because a) I feel like it’s a personal, yet well-thought out opinion, and b) there’s never really any suggestion that it’s a definitive one, but more of a contribution to an open ended discussion that I can participate in. Often, as you ‘get to know’ bloggers over time, their back-catalogue – what they’ve written before about certain things – acts as corroborating evidence to a point they’re currently making, and can offer a degree of understanding that’s not as easily available when you’re reading random stuff by random people on a site posting hundreds of articles a week.
Another reason that I think I find blogs more compelling is that they’re often more interesting precisely because they’re inspired by something (this being an example, though admittedly probably not a great one). I suspect most bloggers have a notional target they try to stick to (say, x posts per week), but they’re often genuinely, erm, genuine – in an, ‘I played this game, and it got me me thinking about this whatsit’ kind of way – and not a ‘quick, we need 2000 words on the leveling-up system in Fallout 4’ one. That’s pretty great, for loads of reasons, but mainly because there’s a level of interest, commitment and passion inherent in that – in somebody taking the time out of real life to write about it – and one cannot fail to pick up on, and appreciate it, I think. I’m sure there’s already a maxim about this kind of thing, but I’ma go with this one (which I totes just made up): If somebody wants to write about something, it’s often exactly a billionty-twelve and a half times more compelling than when somebody has to write about something. (If you’re reading maxim-making people, you can have that one for free).
Add in a little bit of ‘actually, we’ve got no arrangement with anybody to write anything about this particular game’ (just a little bit because, again, I’m quite happy not being sued thankyouverymuch…) and you’re often left with something that’s attained a level of enthusiasm, and/or originality that you’d struggle to find hidden amongst all the click-bait and crowd-pleasing, lowest-common-denominator stuff at some of the bigger places.
In just the last few months, I’ve come across so many cool pieces, a lot of really great places, and, more importantly, plenty of very well-written articles, and it’s been a real pleasure to discover this little part of the Internet devoted to a medium I love. There still seems to be an unfair presumption that blogging = bad, amateur, self-indulgent (and any number of unpleasant connotations) and that, conversely, only the bigger gaming sites (or, say, the gaming/tech sections of other well-known sites) offer bona fide ‘Gaming Journalism’, and I think that’s a completely outdated and erroneous perception. I’m reading stuff that’s every bit as good as the so-called ‘proper’ pieces, and it’s making me think about things in ways the latter could never do. From the random posts about bizarre glitches, to the more thoughtful pieces about the impact a particular game has had on a life, it’s actually bloggers who are, I think, carrying the spirit of games, and gaming, forward, and perhaps even being truer to the core elements of gaming’s past by doing so.
Cooperation, community, a sense of wonder, a shared love of a medium – these are all things that are retained and nurtured in blogs, and things that are valued over commercial success, or clicks, or the number of shares you can generate from a title that ends in ‘the answer will shock you!’ (see what I’ve done there, what with my title and that, eh? Guys? Guys??). Don’t get me wrong, some gaming journos are genuinely talented, and some are equally enthusiastic and such, but – as with all media and journalism, I guess – there’s a definite move in some slightly less than great directions, and that’s a bit of a shame to see.
Anyways, my point (if you’re still with me) is this; keep up the good work (if you’re a blogger yourself), and keep reading blogs (if you’re not). Yeah, we might not have to wade through a bajillion emails from developers every morning, or climb over a mountain of advanced copies of games, and we might not be the quickest at bringing you breaking news, but we are trying to nurture a sense of love and enthusiasm in our work, and ultimately pass it on to our readers.
Sure, sometimes we not always possible to write them words dead goodly, and sometimes we’re not quite as polished as authors who’ve been through several subs and a proofreader, but honestly, some bloggers are doing a pretty fucking great job (again, not me) and that’s to the benefit of all gamers everywhere, I think. As somebody who’s seen the gaming industry grow into a huge behemoth – for better and for worse – I think it’s great that there’s still the option to engage with Games, Gamers and Gaming on a simpler, purer level – one insulated from all the money-making shizzle – and that truly is something worthy of respect and support.
In my humble opinion, obviously.