Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The mega interview journey, part 1: how I got to writing the damned thing

Prior to setting up the Game Anthropologist, I’d only been paid money for one piece of games writing. I applied to write at GameSetWatch because I like the kind of writing done there. As I mentioned earlier, two of the first columns I read and loved are Chris Dahlen’s Save the Robot and Leigh Alexander’s now retired the Aberrant Gamer. I also mentioned that I discovered a sort of blog chain.

Despite their similarities, there seemed to be no formal recognition or label of the type of discourse they were engaged in, something I now think is mainly the result of two things: the spectacle over New Games Journalism, and the fact that it is mostly private and personal stuff with varying agendas and no money or official governing body involved; in short, they were blogs, and no one considers a group of blogs a community. Instead of only making my own observations, I realized they knew better than I did and that I should get their opinions.

The main reason I interviewed 7 people is because the column is about communities, and because I wanted to make sure I wasn't getting the opinion of someone in the minority. For however intelligent all these writers are, I had no way of knowing for sure what they agreed on. They'd have surely been pissed had I described all of them, labeled them, and said what they thought and what they disagreed and agreed on without talking to them. So I absolutely had to interview a number of them if I were to represent a group of people. I did talk to some people who said things no one else said and said things that basically no one else thinks (that I know of). For example, Leigh said "game criticism" with a hell of a lot of confidence; would the interview have gone well if I kept asking "Gee, is that what everyone else thinks?" Wouldn't have worked. And I did ask that question in the basic sense, but only one or two times, and only about the broad focus of the article and the basic questions I had regarding why these spaces existed, what they were for, what similarities they bear, if their methods warranted labeling, and if they were communities and not just casual publishing space. To ask it about every single response would not be an effective interviewing technique.

I had some criteria for the all the people I interviewed which is simple and self-evident: they had to 1. have a personal blog space of some sort which is separate from their official title, they 2. had to be frequently linked and part of the network I'd found, they 3. had to write about games in this different style I yet had no name for and 4. had to be successful in writing about games in some other successful venue or venues.

There were exceptions, but only minor ones. N'Gai's space isn't strictly his, it's Newsweek's; still, he runs the thing and it was his idea to even set it up. He can definitely count. Shawn Elliott is not someone I'd have thought to ask, but his podcasts are legendary, he thinks differently, and N'Gai said he may be interested--with N'Gai's recommendation, talking to Shawn was too good an opportunity to pass up. He also has a blog on 1Up, which gives him a space that is somewhat similar to N'Gai's. Michael Abbott isn't a game journalist, but he definitely fits in with the rest of them on conversation--and technically, he does get paid to write about games as he's doing Brainy Gamer as part of his sabbatical (he will do a presentation on it to his Wabash College colleagues this fall, as I understand); and anyway, if he's teaching a class on it, he's definitely a professional who is talking and writing about games and getting paid for it. And anyway, having some variety and slightly outside perspective helps when it's coming from someone who writes at a very successful, very mainstream publication, someone who resides at and has lots of experience at a traditional games outlet, and someone who is in academia.

The very first person I talked to was N'Gai.


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