One meme that’s been floating around in my twitter feed recently (and elsewhere, e.g. it got mentioned in the holiday Confab): there are a lot of us who like being part of a conversation about video games, who like talking with others about whatever game we’re just playing or just finished. But we don’t manage to do this nearly as often as we like, and to the extent that we do manage this, it drives us to unhealthy behavior. So: what can we do about this? Heck, I’ll be selfish: what can I do to improve the quality of my life in this regard?
I’ve mentioned before that I find the fact that many game web sites are focused on new or, still worse, unreleased games to be actively harmful. And after writing that post, I’ve altered my behavior accordingly: I visit mainstream game websites much less than I did before (and, to the extent that I visit them, I skim rather than read), I spend much less time thinking about unreleased games, and I try to entirely avoid blogging/twittering about unreleased games. The effects have been all to the good: I feel less hype-driven, I’ve freed up a noticeable amount of time, and I’ve found much more satisfying ways to use that time. (Reading more thoughtful video game blogs, playing games instead of reading about them, or doing stuff that’s completely unrelated to video games!) So I now consider the issue of excess discussion of unreleased games to be a solved problem: such discussion is clearly unhealthy, nobody’s forcing me to pay attention to it, and once I open my eyes a bit, enough of the world agrees with me to keep me quite busy reading the interesting things they have to say. It wouldn’t surprise me if this obsession with the future will wane even on mainstream sites as the medium matures: coverage of other art forms isn’t, as far as I can tell, nearly as obsessed with works that don’t actually exist yet.
Discussion of newly released games is a harder problem, though. Part of what’s in play here is the urge to follow shiny new objects; I don’t consider that particularly healthy, either, and while I do have that tendency, I have a question I can ask myself that helps me avoid its excesses. But that’s not all that’s going on: we all want to be part of a community, part of a conversation. And one difference that video games have from books: the multiplayer aspect means that we all want to play together, too! And, unfortunately, by far the easiest way to synchronize on that is to all play the newest games.
So: what do do about it? Part of the solution is, I think, to come up with other mechanisms for synchronizing gameplay, mechanisms that allow us to play older games and have a bit more wiggle room than release dates allow. On the solo game side, that’s how the Vintage Game Club came to be. On the multiplayer side, I’ve enjoyed the VGHVI play sessions, though they have yet to catch on in a big way. (Multiple dying Xboxes haven’t helped; timezone and platform differences also contributed. I didn’t realize that anybody owned Rock Band 2 on the PS3!)
But I’m coming to realize that, as much as I like synchronized playthrough and discussions, it’s missing something important. Compare this to other media: I never have the feeling that I can’t talk to other people about the books or movies or music that I’m interested in. And, while the multiplayer aspect of games isn’t particularly relevant to those media (with the potential exception of music), the “synchronized playthrough” aspect is; yet, while I’m aware that book clubs exist, I’ve never joined one, and have no particular desire to do so. (Though, to be fair, I very much enjoyed reading math books together with my fellow grad students.)
Basically, while I get excited whenever I find that somebody else cares about a book or author that I also care about, I don’t feel any particular need for us to be reading the same book at the same time. In fact, it can be almost more fun to come across a discussion written years ago about one of my favorite books! And there’s certainly no end of discussion of my favorite games out there, even discussion of those games by my favorite game bloggers; I just need to find it, and find it at the right time. (When I’m playing the game in question, when I’ve just finished the game in question and am about to blog on the topic.)
My first experiment with this was in my post on No More Heroes. I asked on twitter for recommendations of interesting reading on the game; Matthew Gallant was kind enough to get me started, and clicking through links led me to a list of references that Dan Bruno had gathered.
And reading those links was tons of fun! I’m tentatively planning to do this from now on in my posts of final thoughts of games: I enjoyed the reading, and some other people seem to have found the collection of links that I came up with to be a good idea. (And, as I said above, I sure was glad that Dan had done that before I thought of it!)
The nice thing about this solution is that I can implement it myself. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it when other people point me at interesting discussions, but I should be able to dig up some posts myself in a pinch. In particular, searching within Google Reader should help a lot, especially with the aid of judicious tagging of feeds.
Having said that, though, I’ll encourage other people to do the same: if you’re writing about a game, consider sticking a list of links in there somewhere, even if those links don’t contain thoughts that you’re responding to directly. If somebody was interested in doing this in a more centralized matter, whether via a simple blog aggregator (Planet Brainysphere?), a wiki, a voting mechanism, or just a comprehensive hand-edited website, I’d be curious about that, too. But I’m not sure that’s necessary, or even particularly useful: a bunch of uncoordinated individual contributions should work just fine.
I am optimistic. The last year was a great one for gaming blogs; I fully expect next year to be much better.
This post has not been revised since publication.