Other Ten Percent 6/20/14

Jun 19 2014

Wooooo Thursday. We continue with our “pretty awesome writers” series because I haven’t yet run out writers to talk about. It will end sometime between the end of today’s entry and the end of tomorrow’s entry depending on if I can come up with another writer to talk about tomorrow.

A while back a friend who writes about video games asked me what it was I liked so much about Leigh Alexander‘s writing since I kinda couldn’t shut up about how all games writers need to start acting way more like her. My friend admitted she’s a good writer but didn’t really see why I raised her above all the other good writers in games journalism. Certainly there’s a lot of great writers and this whole thing isn’t meant to say Leigh Alexander is the only games writer anybody should be reading, just that I think she’s the best. I once had a story about Roguelikes I was looking forward to writing reassigned to her and I couldn’t even be mad I was like “yeah if Leigh Alexander wants that she’ll do a much better job than I will. She is objectively the best.”

At the time I was asked about her, drunk and stumbling through San Francisco, I couldn’t articulate why she was the best besides “she calls the industry on its bullshit.” That’s certainly the trait I was most jealous of at the time. My last professional act in game journalism was to not ask about sexism in a game where the female ROBOTS look like this because I liked the developers and didn’t want to upset them and frankly didn’t write for anybody who’d publish a story about sexist robot spines anyway. It doesn’t really get to the heart of why I enjoy her writing though so I’m going to take another stab at it here.

Part of it is that I just philosophically agree with her 90% of the time about games and how they suck and how they’re amazing and how sometimes they suck and are amazing at the exact same time and how does that even work and UGH GAMES. But there’s lots of people who feel that way in the games press now. Or at least it feels like there are enough that I can go to places like Rock Paper Shotgun and Gamasutra, pick a random article, and generally avoid lavish praise for boring big name video games about strong men killing things with large guns.

What makes Leigh Alexander my favorite games writer instead of simply a games writer I agree with often though is that she manages to work her personal experience and perspective into her writing in a way that makes it universal rather than aggravating. Games criticism got some essential Lester Bangs-y-ness into its DNA early on but most games critics are not Lester Bangs. The result was often a 19 year old who didn’t like being social formulating his best conception of being IN YOUR FACE and PERSONAL. It was often just enthusiastically saying the things you liked were good and the things you didn’t like were bad. It often looked kinda like this.

There’s tremendous power in doing that approach correctly though. It allows you to talk about not just what games are but what they mean and to have that connect to readers. Here is an intensely personal piece of writing advocating for you to play a card game. It really makes me want to play that card game. It also just makes me want to try harder in life generally.

It also, if you are very very good, lets you write about things you have a personal connection to in a way it TERRIFIED me to try when I was writing journalism. Here’s a piece that she wrote that she is very personally invested and INVOLVED in and it is probably my favorite piece of writing on Facebook games.

The other great thing about this trick is that it works on things besides video games so I can show how it works even if you don’t play video games. I think my favorite, in that it kinda justifies after the fact how often I used to order Dominos in New York, is her piece on why Dominos is kinda great even in New York where there are much better pizza options. She also wrote the best Eurovision coverage I’ve seen online. (I want her and Mallory Ortberg to team up and write tag-team misandrist Game of Thrones reviews called All Men Must Die. This has been TV Recap Fanfic Corner.)

Games journalism is an enthusiast pursuit covering another enthusiast pursuit so it tends to take readers for granted in a certain way. “Of course you care about the new Playstation 4 games. Why would you be reading this if you didn’t? Why would you KNOW THIS EXISTS if you didn’t?” The result is that if you’re not already interested in a topic around gaming there’s almost no games writing that bothers to do anything but tell you that it exists. Leigh Alexander doesn’t assume you care she actually bothers to make you care and that’s why I won’t shut up about how other games writers need to act way more like her.

No responses yet

Leave a Reply