A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure to hold a virtual round table via conference call with four of the most intelligent, responsible journalists working in the field of games.
N'Gai Craol is an editor at Newsweek and writes for the blog LevelUp. Julian Dibbell has been writing about games longer than any of us, and is currently a freelancer working for The New York Times Magazine, among other places. He's also the author of the book Play Money. Kieron Gillen is a career freelance game journalist who writes for The Escapist, Edge and other magazines in the U.K. and the U.S. And N. Evan Van Zelfden is also a career freelancer, and has also published in The Escapist as well as The Economist, Kotaku and others.
All four were kind enough to take an hour out of their day to share their thoughts with me on game journalism as a whole, the art of crafting an interesting story about games and how they made into one of the sweetest gigs on the planet.
The following is a partial transcript of the highlights of the discussion that followed. For the full-length audio download, skip to the last page.
Julian Dibbell: Writing about games is not the same thing as writing about other cultural forms, it's really more travel writing. ... I think it goes to the fact that understanding, particularly as games move online, what a game is about and how it works isn't matter of simply playing it. It's a matter of immersing yourself in a culture or working it as a beat for a while, so that these kinds of stories become the obvious ones.
Kieron Gillen: It's like being an embedded reporter, isn't it? I think about Jim Rossignol, writing about Korea, and he went there for a couple of weeks and got stuff you really don't get from the surface level. There's some real similarities to travel writing.
Russ Pitts: It's important to note that Kieron was (for better or worse) the man who coined the phrase New Games Journalism.
KG: I did tell Jim if NGJ gets mentioned I'm hanging up.
RP: I know you're sick of hearing that, and I bring it up only because that's a comparison I've made myself between game writing and travel writing, and it feels like the meat of what you and Ian and Jim were after. Is that how you think of it? If you could go back in time and erase the bad parts of being the guy who coined NGJ, is that really the essence of what you guys were saying?
KG: It's clearly something that a lot of people think about games in that way. It's one of the fruitful ways you can write about games. It's not the only way to think about games, but it's quite fruitful.
RP: I want to talk to Evan about this, because I haven't been to every game convention in the past year - I've been to a lot of them - but every one I've been to, Evan has been to as well. Evan, do you think of games journalism as travel journalism?
N. Evan Van Zelfden: Definitely. I mean, I was always more interested in developer culture than writing about the games themselves, so one of the things I would do is go to different cities. I toured Dallas, Chicago, Montreal and found that each city has a unique developer culture. It's because whenever there's a large company - here Austin had Origin, and Origin closed and everyone went off to start a different company. It's fascinating. You've got these little city states of game developers across the world.
RP: How's that translate into the work? Going back to the travel journalist metaphor ... with game journalism, how do you sell for example, The Economist or The New York Times Magazine an article about games, particularly about a game niche that most people don't even know exists?