Chapter 4: Much obliged
By Christian Nutt
I’d started to have this suspicion that I wanted to write about games again.
Writing about games was once something I’d do naturally, effortlessly, daily — like eating or breathing.
There was a period in my life where I wrote about games for fun. Then there was a long period where I was an enthusiastic paid amateur trying to tell others, in the cleverest and most beautiful way I knew, about the games that moved me. At the same time, I wrote about games I felt obligated to write about, which was okay.
One day, much too late, I realized that virtually all that was left was the feeling of obligation.
As the internet became more accessible in the late 1990s, game fandom blossomed online. Just like everyone else who got their start back then, I filled a suitcase with enthusiasm and came to California to learn on the job from people who didn’t know a hell of a lot more than I. Somehow, we shaped it into an ethos. Though some of us made it work better than, in hindsight, it ever should have, it reached its conclusion.
It’s not dead yet, but it’s over.
More and more deadwood stacked up at the magazines and websites; publishers manipulated the editors to the point where good work became impossible, or at least irrelevant. Simple and effective methods for generating content were devised, as content became first commoditized and then utterly devalued.
Whether I realized it or not — whether I wanted to or not — I became a hack. It was a survival skill, but it hurt.
Rather than try to save the industry from itself, the talented fled, unfulfilled. The naivete that once drove gamers to become writers had a critical flaw: Naivete, by its nature, is a lack of perspective. From within and without the publications, this was trivial for the unscrupulous to capitalize on.
This became more apparent when blogs took over from the mainstream sites, replacing good-natured cluelessness with bad-natured cluelessness. The irrelevance of corporate game journalism was thrown into relief, but what supplanted it? For a moment, there was novelty — maybe hope, even. Then there was simply noise, as the blogs finished the process that the corporate sites began: stripping writing of value, and of meaning.
Exasperated, I checked out.
Somehow, though, eventually… I’d started to have this suspicion that I wanted to write about games again.
More than a desire to play them again — which has been its own problem — I had a feeling I wanted to write about them. A few things put this in my head: my semi-sane Final Fantasy XIII review, which fell onto the screen almost improvisationally. Conversations with my boyfriend, who always explains my thoughts to me. A longing, like a small dog whining.
A few years ago, I got a job at Gamasutra. I’d thought I could say anything I wanted to say there, and imagined my silence was a result of having nothing to say. I realized I was wrong when I began to understand that, no, there were things that I wanted to say. I just didn’t know where to say them, or who to say them to.
Brandon Sheffield invited me for pizza. The point of going for pizza was to discuss relaunching Insert Credit.
I started thinking and realized that over the past several years I’d had a lot of conversations about games that maybe had something to them. I realized I’d followed my nose toward information that interested me, confirmed it for myself, and then silently closed the browser tab without ever telling anybody what I’d found.
I realized that I was starting to think about writing about games in the past tense, wistfully.
There needs to be a place for all of that. I’d rather have a conversation with everybody. I’d rather share the strange facts I uncover. I’d rather write about games than not write about games.
And I’d much rather know there’s a games website that’s always got something worth reading on it. We’ve had pizza a couple more times now, and I’m pretty confident that this will be it.
I want to start writing again before I can’t remember how, or why I wanted to in the first place, all those years ago.
-Christian Nutt is peeling back the layers.