typewriter.jpg[Regular GSW column 'The Game Anthropologist' is all about gaming communities. Recently, Michael Walbridge interviewed a number of game writers and summarized their thoughts on why so many game writers spend their spare time writing even more on their personal spaces. In the coming weeks, Walbridge will be detailing some of the key points from the individual interviews conducted for the piece. This week describes the second interview with Kieron Gillen of Rock Paper Shotgun.]

My second interview was with a writer from the blog Rock Paper Shotgun, a place that covers my favorite games format, the PC. Not knowing how to approach, I thought, “Well, they’re four game journalists and they’re all British.” So I tried my best to do what an intelligent British gamer would: I mailed all four of them with the subject “I request a sacrifice”. One of them replied in part with

"Hi Mr Walbridge

You have prompted a shadowy gathering of the RPS hive mind. I step forth, and give the answer. Imagine this in a voice that's very deep, and flames are spouting from my nostrils.

Anyway - pleasure to meet you. Sorry that Carless has talked you into doing work for his evil GSW. I fear and shun him."

That’s how I met Kieron Gillen. I chose to talk to him over talking to all four of the RPS writers because I'm not sure how to talk to four people at once at this point, and I'm still collecting my thoughts. It turned out to be the right choice.

Like N'Gai, his being early in line set the tone for the rest of my interviewing. His being in the UK forced me to use Skype, a thing I'm grateful for. I also had some slight difficulty understanding him. The guy talks a mile a minute and he talks with excitement, enthusiasm, and anxiety. More than once he interrupted himself with "Oh yeah, your question," then answered the question.

He seems comfortable speaking to me but also seems to be exerting a lot of effort in not jumping to conclusions about anything. The only thing he's actually conclusive about is RPS; he owns part of it, he feels he can represent it. But anything else? No. Perhaps it's a British thing, or perhaps it's because he's dealt with some harsh, unfair criticism.

“Why’d you make RockPaperShotgun when the four of you are writing at plenty of publications who pay you in English money?” I said. “It’s about the PC only. You surely aren’t writing only about consoles, are you? You’re making enough money, aren’t you?”

Kieron.jpg Yes, he tells me, they write about PCs. But some PC stuff needs more coverage. “Every few days we’ll discover something that people don’t usually see, and it’s a shame if it’s not exposed,” he explained. "I've been a games journalist for a decade at least. 13 years. RPS is an outlet for our PC stuff because we're not seeing people write about the format the way we want to."

“And how do you want it done?” I pried.

"You gotta understand—the editors I work for do give me a long leash. I just…I'd be lying if I were to say it doesn't bring me pleasure to have the cuffs off."

Unregulated? “It’s just part time. Games journalism doesn’t tend to emphasize the PC. But I do. So commercially and intellectually, making and working on RPS makes the most sense because it’s not something anyone else does. It’s especially something that American readers don’t see in approach in tone.”

And the other blogs? Do they get a label for style or purpose? And I don’t remember what he said, not only because he’s a fast talker with a foreign accent, but because he soon jerked me out of my chair: “Well, I wrote this thing called ‘The New Games Journalism’”…

I had read it a long time ago and hadn't gotten around to looking at it again. There are four writers on RPS and the one that I get just happens to be the guy I didn't know wrote "New Games Journalism." Oops. There already was a guy who loosely did what I'm doing right now in this very interview! He had made an attempt at clarifying the changes that occurred. Could I learn from it? I gently encouraged him to talk about it. I was awe-struck; here was Mr. "I've been writing for 13 years, have my own successful space and am well-read and liked by my peers" feeling frustrated; he sounded like a man who felt that fate had dealt him failure and there was nothing he could do about it.

I was digging up skeletons, picking at old wounds, resurrecting old fights, and he let me proceed. I'm not sure why he was so willing to talk about it, other than the fact we got along. He took a deep breath beforehand, knowing that anything he said about "New Games Journalism" to me was going to be added to the long-buried canon on it.

“The whole thing was not something I foresaw,” he said, exasperated. “It was more of a letter, really. I was speaking to my peers, not the readers, and so it ended up seeming condescending to some people. Most people thought it said ‘no reviews.’ People thought I was trying to change games journalism—I was simply trying to add to it.”

gordon_freeman_big.gif He also gave me an ultimate summary: “It helped precipitate the debate about what games journalism could or should be. It seems there were more pieces written about it than in the style of it. Some people got inspiration from it. I’ve had enough people tell me that to make me think it reached enough people and some of the people it was intended for.”

So no, (duh), he didn’t have a name or label for me; he was kind enough to concede hmm, yes, look at those similarities! But no more. "I didn't think it would get passed around so much. I had no idea so many people would read this thing and take it so seriously." We then calmed down--he talked to me more about games journalism as a whole and I begged him to tell me more about what I should do to succeed, and he obliges me.

I ask him if many people get to talk about games in this kind of way, or if people are feeling lonely in the land of games writing. "Actually, I've always had someone to talk to about games," he tells me. "But I know that for many others, that's not the way it is."

He's got plenty of friends and has no label for me, and I don't blame him. Combined with N'Gai, I have now had two different kinds of warnings that I'm barking up the wrong tree.

I'm grateful he still mentioned my article here on RPS. The tagline? "Michael Walbridge talks to assorted games writers trying to find a scene name. I just tell him the one he shouldn’t call it. For God’s sake, not that."