Game Theory

1 Jan

nyt2012 was, for me, a year filled with writing. I wrote 1,366 Kotaku articles (!!), traveled all over the country, played a bunch of games, met a bunch of interesting people, and generally had a good time working my ass off.

It was a year of big changes at Kotaku, and over the course of the year, our team gelled. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed by the job, but thanks to my co-workers and my marvelous boss, I spent the second half of 2012 in particular looking forward to heading into the office every day.

One of the coolest things this year was our involvement with the New York Times. Just last week, I had the privilege of contributing to the NYT “Game Theory” year-end round-up. So, that’s pretty cool!

Here’s the general story: This year, Kotaku formed a partnership with the Times where we’d provide them the bulk of their games coverage in the form of capsule reviews cut down from the full reviews we’d run on our site. Stephen and Chris Suellentrop also took on more substantive coverage for the paper. It was a pretty low-effort, cheap-thrills kind of thing; we didn’t get bylines, and the capsule reviews didn’t offer us much of a chance to say too much beyond “This game is cool,” but it was still fun to see our words in the Times, and great that Kotaku was providing gaming coverage to arguably the most esteemed and widely-read news publication in the world.

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In past years, Chris Suellentrop has run a neat feature at Slate called the “Slate Gaming Club,” where a group of critics take turns writing letters to one another about the year in games. A lot of my favorite writers and critics have participated in the series, and I’ve wanted to do it for a while. This year, I pitched Chris on the idea–I’d played more games in 2012 than any other year of my life, and if ever there was a year when I’d have a lot to add to the conversation, it was this one. As it turned out, Chris had taken the idea to the New York Times, and asked me if I’d like to contribute to that, instead. He was also in the process of setting up a collection of guest writers–the idea would be that he, Stephen and I would act as the regular writers, with several guests writing one-shot posts in between our entries.

Long story short(ish): We got underway last week, and the whole series came together quite well. Prompted by Sandy Hook, our opening entries talked about violence in games, and I’m actually very glad we found a focus like that. Often, these kinds of things can turn into scattershot “My favorite game was [X]” conversations, and I think we did well with a focus, particularly one people are as interested in as they are video game violence. Each of those first three letters was published in last Wednesday’s print edition of the Times, in a big, multi-page spread. So: My first New York Times byline! Not bad.

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You can, of course, read all of these articles online, too. Chris started us off with a table-setter that introduced everyone and raised the question of violence in games, and Stephen followed him with a look at the NRA’s bizarre response to the Sandy Hook shootings the week earlier. My first entry took a look at video game violence through the lenses of a few pet theories of mine, from the idea that game developers keep making shooting games because they’ve gotten very good at it to Steve Gaynor’s wonderful concept of “specific violence,” which suggests that if video game murder were less dehumanized and anonymous, it would be more impactful and dramatically useful.

Helen Lewis, deputy editor of The New Statesman, wrote a thoughtful article about women in games, which was nice to see, particularly as 2012 felt like a watershed year for the discussion of sexism in video games. Stephen waded in to respond to some of the things Helen had brought up, particularly surrounding the Tomb Raider attempted-rape controversy, since there has been some lingering obfuscation about how that story was reported, what the game’s rep actually said, and how the publisher’s PR spun it after the fact. Playwright Lucy Preble hopped in to bring up the games as art discussion, pointing to ThatGameCompany’s Journey as an outstanding example of a video game that stands as a work of art.

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On that tip, Chris wrote my favorite entry of the series, in which he talked about how video games are like ballet. I’ve always talked about how video games are like music, but I gotta say, Chris’ parallel is stronger, largely because dance, like video games, is a medium that encompasses other, subservient disciplines (music, dance, visual arts, dramatic performance). The wonderful Jenn Frank then talked about the indie games she liked this year, and the many ways they embraced failure and death. That gave me an opportunity to bring up a few of my own favorite games of the year (and sneak a few Persona 4 screens onto the NYT website), and look at the many ways video games do not yet welcome newcomers.

Two more guest posters brought us home: Wreck-It Ralph director Rich Moore talked about the games that influenced his by-all-accounts fine film, and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” producer Gavin Purcell wrote a humorous and well-observed piece about how the social game Letterpress made him become antisocial thanks to his friends constantly pressuring him to take his turn.

And with that, we called it a day. I had a blast contributing to the series, and was happy with the ideas we all managed to articulate. I’m super proud not only to have been published in the New York Times, but to have published work I’m happy with.

Onward and upward, as they say. 2013 should prove to be a very exciting year both at Kotaku and beyond. There are new video game consoles to see, ambitious games already on the horizon, and we’ve got a phenomenal team of writers to take it all on. As I was saying to Jason Schreier the other day, “We’re loaded for bear, and this year, there’re going to be some bears to hunt.” We’ll see what’s next. I’m excited.

For now, I’ve got some soup coming at this cafe, and I’m pretty excited about that, too. Happy new year, everyone!

Read the “Game Theory” series at the New York Times

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