An Evening With The Old Men Of New Games Journalism

By Alec Meer on March 20th, 2014 at 2:30 pm.

Older readers (and writers) may recall that, in the dim and distant days before Rock, Paper, Shotgun, our hallowed co-founder and now acclaimed comics writer Kieron Gillen proposed a profound change to games journalism: leave the pretence of objectivity behind, step away from the dry scores, the thinly-disguised marketing and the focus on facts and technicality, and embrace subjectivity, anecdote and emotion. His angry, passionate, devised-down-the-pub New Games Journalism manifesto attracted both reverence and hatred, and, one might say, lasting change – both good and ill.

That was ten years ago. He’s tried not to mention the war since. But next week, in a different pub, he relives it all – with an audience, with the journalists he’d supped with at the time, and with The Guardian. You can be there, if you can be in London next Wednesday.

Kieron will be joined by former PC Gamer writer/editor (and now PC Games N editor) Tim Edwards and former PCG contributor (and now Official Xbox Magazine editor) Jonty Hicks, as well as The Guardian’s Keith Stuart, to talk about what happened then, what’s happened since, and what games journalism is today. The event will take place at The Yorkshire Grey pub in London, on 26 March, starting 7pm. Tickets are a fiver, including a free drink. Book here.

I was surprised at the news. For years, Kieron’s mantra when questioned about New Games Journalism was “don’t mention the war.” So why, I asked him, is that changing now?

“As the Year of Luigi comes to its end, it’s time,” he observed, while brushing toast crumbs off his white suit and with his other hand idly sketching a perfect recreation of a ZangbandTK dungeon he last saw in 2003. He pauses, fingers aloft, gazing at a place I can’t see. Looks me straight in the eye with an expression that speaks of a hundred thousand fallen Chaos wizards and says, thunderously, “Basically, following RPS’ motto of only when it’s funny, a historical re-enactment of Tim, Jon and my evening of horror struck me as funny.”

He gestures for me to bow, while he stands to polish his eighty-foot bronze statue of his City of Heroes character, Warwych. “Also, it’s in a pub, which is an easy thing to talk me into. Also, I’m excited about joining the list of things which makes people our age feel old when hearing.”

The room itself seems to tremble as he turns his mighty face to something that was, perhaps, once a smile. “’10 years since I sent Kieron death threats for high level poncitude? Where do all the years go!’ And so on.”

I can feel reality itself tearing asunder now, but I gasp another question into the fractured, disintegrating scene before me. “What does NGJ stand for again?”

The creator of games journalism rips the sky away, plucks my shattered body from the ground with a massive hand and hurls me into the void beyond.

“Don’t mention the war, Alec,” he calls after me, softly but with an eternal power.

Whatever psychic residue is left of me shrugs and offers, “So basically you’ll do anything to get the Guardian to pay for your booze.”

“People say I don’t understand how journalism works any more,” The Father replies. “Clearly, I do.”

Next Wednesday, then. Whatever psychic residue is left of me hopes to be there too.

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57 Comments »

  1. Billards says:

    Phonogram 3 etc.

  2. Mirqy says:

    watch this sell out in seconds…

  3. phuzz says:

    “our hallowed co-founder, ex Dr Who companion and now acclaimed comics writer”
    Fixed that for you.

  4. tikey says:

    Will there be an article about it for those of us so far away that we can’t assist?

    -KG

    • BooleanBob says:

      I thought we only did this to get the reply system working?

      -KG

    • Gap Gen says:

      It took me a while in France to realise that “assister” didn’t mean to help out at an event.

      But yes, I would like a video if possible!

      -KG, apparently

  5. FrumiousBandersnatch says:

    … the heck did i just read. Is this over-dramatic writing style at the end some kind of reference i am not getting?

  6. Zunt says:

    Electronic old men, running the world.

  7. Arathain says:

    Ah, the fuss over NGJ was always amusing from this distance. Because the fuss only mattered on a personal level. It became perfectly obvious over the following months and years that whatever people felt about what he had written, the ideas contained within became internalised in much of games writing. He won, basically. I hope it feels that way.

  8. EvilBadger says:

    Kieron Gillen will always be “C-Monster” of Amiga Power to me.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      Likewise.

      In a similar vein: I once nearly rented a flat from Tim Edwards’ step dad.

    • Sucram says:

      The man behind the legendary Advanced Lawnmower Simulator

      • Kieron Gillen says:

        I merely converted it to the Amiga. Duncan MacDonald was the mastermind behind the original and best spectrum version.

  9. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    I sense something. Something I’ve not felt since… *counts fingers, runs out of fingers, falls over*

  10. Gap Gen says:

    That commenter Kelron’s done alright for themselves.

  11. tormos says:

    In service of “making people feel old” I was 10 when the NGJ manifesto came out and yet it’s had a profound impact on my taste in games/journalism/gamesjournalism

    • SuicideKing says:

      I was 11. HAH.

      • PoLLeNSKi says:

        Yeah well my dad’s bigger than your dad so there

        • blind_boy_grunt says:

          yeah well, my band is better than your band (we’ve got more songs than a song convention)

    • Josh W says:

      What were you doing reading journalism-journalism at that age?

      • tormos says:

        I wasn’t, thank Horace. The height of my gaming experience that year was getting a copy of Halo: Combat Evolved for my birthday, and the height of my exposure to Games Journalism was rifling through my older friend’s copy of PC Gamer. My point was that even though I was about 8 years from encountering any “journalism-journalism” about our beloved electronic vidya-entertainments, my experience and understanding of “games journalism” has been hugely impacted by the NGJ manifesto. (eg RPS, everything Cara Elisson has ever written)

      • Kieron Gillen says:

        I am the socrates of games journalism. I will be condemned to death for the corruption of the youth.

  12. Dinger says:

    For me it was the B-25H in Warbirds. Two loud engines. Four fixed .50cal machine guns in the nose, four more in blister packs, A pair run by the AI in a top turret, a twin-.50 AI tailgunner, and two flex-mounted .50s in the hull. Six rockets and a 75mm howitzer in the nose. Come back from the pub, load up with a bunch of parafrags, get the twin piston-fired props of the ol’ Billy Mitchell spinning and go hunting NOE for those fighter pukes. All the ACM in the world, all the discussion of Boom-n-Zoom vs. Turn-n-Burn, all that Loose Deuce vs. Dual Attack — none of that textbook crap gonna help you if Hell pays a visit to your takeoff roll, if Ma Deuce shortens your final. The elegant lines of a Zeke or the straightforward hulk of a Jug — I didn’t care. One fat cannon shell later, and it’s all just duraluminum and a POL fire.

    For him it was a blog. Good for him.

  13. altum videtur says:

    That got steamy.

  14. lurkalisk says:

    With all due respect to Karin Galleon… Is it just me or did the distinction between NGJ and “old” games journalism always seem a bit silly and meaningless? I mean, it feels like segmenting anything really, between the objective and subjective: stupid. I always thought the easiest, most helpful, most meaningful and most just solution was both of these. AT THE SAME TIME! (if you know what I mean).

    • aronbarco says:

      You are right, in a sense. It is obvious that one cannot step over itself, talk from no point-of-view. Also, it is obvious that another’s experience cannot be used as a standard of measurement.

      Though, here, I suspect ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ are just very general terms used in the attempt to convey what really matters: overcoming the naive worldview that we can measure quality. We talk about quality trying to describe one residue created by human experience, only after experience you can choose paradigm cases and call them rules to be followed. You can’t measure the quality of music just with a grade system (10 out of 10), first you need a canon to have a foothold, to have criteria for judging. And that canon will be invariably composed of — surprise! — musical pieces. You end up judging according to the traditional-historical-cultural paradigms of judging; experiencing what you were supposed to; seeing what your glasses allows you to. It is the hermeneutic circle.

      Another problem is the blind belief that language is precise, so our journalism can and should be a “mirror” to reality. Or that we can express faithfully our feelings and personal experiences…

      Why not drop all this pretentious bullshit and just strive for sincerity? Just try to produce an insightful and enjoyable text?

      That is, I believe, the fight.

  15. Stardreamer says:

    “Bow, Nigger”.

    The two most influential words in all of games journalism?

    • Stellar Duck says:

      If it isn’t, it should be.

      I can’t count the amount of times I’ve linked friends to that piece. I love it dearly.

    • Mad Hamish says:

      When you say the words you’re supposed to link the article. Otherwise everyone ends up thinking you’re a racist.

  16. SuicideKing says:

    I know nothing about this “war”. Did the internet proverbially set itself on fire back then as well (as it does too frequently these days), over his blog post?

    • SuicideKing says:

      When things are bad, it’s a war between money-men who want to keep profits by reducing costs and the editorial who want to keep profits by being better.

      Is this it?

    • BooleanBob says:

      Kieron valiantly argued for writers everywhere to put a greater emphasis on writing about themselves. It was a big ask, to be sure, but he appears to have somehow managed to convince them.

      (<3)

      • Gap Gen says:

        I think RPS’s spawning pool PC Gamer already did a lot of what could be called NGJ, but a lot of outlets did/do have a very formal, impersonal style that was no fun to read. Then again, there are inexplicable people who would prefer to read something highly factual with no personality, so I suppose it depends what you want. I think online it makes more sense if you’re just looking for a “is this game worth spending money on?” review, rather than subscribing to a £6/month magazine. I remember PC Gamer being reliably great to read cover to cover because so much of the writing was excellent.

        • SuicideKing says:

          Gosh, how old are you all? :D

          Thanks, though!

        • BooleanBob says:

          Dismal jokes aside, I can only agree – PCG was a bible for me growing up, not so much for the games but for the writing. Much of Future’s output and the broader UK games mag scene held up similar standards, though. It was a heady time to be young and a nerd.

          @SuicideKing – too old.

        • Volcanu says:

          Ah yes, the heady days of late 90′s PC magazines. God they were good. Or at least I remember them being good, I was much younger then.

          I used to buy both PC Gamer and the excellent (and edgier) PC Zone and read them cover to cover. They were funny AND well written – and that generation of writing talent hasn’t been equalled since imo. Not only did we have many of the RPS founders and contributors, but Charlie Brooker’s columns never failed to elicit a snigger or two. In fairness, both of those magazines did a good job of including interesting pieces and features that didn’t fall into the standard ‘review’ / ‘preview’ format of most games writing of the time.

          Sigh…nostalgia.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      There’s quite a few articles about it, both period and later, if you’re interested. It’s in textbooks, believe it or not.

      You must understand what it was like in 2004. The idea of an article that wasn’t a review or a preview left huge chunks of people bemused.

  17. nebnebben says:

    The guardian is the best UK newspaper in my opinion.Now I’m waiting for someone to espouse the Daily Mail instead and start a flame war

    • hypercrisis says:

      I haven’t a word in favour of the Daily Mail, but I will say I find Guardian rapidly approaching the status of being the left-wing equivalent. Equally low journalistic standards right now.

  18. Okami says:

    Keiron Gilliam!

  19. sinister agent says:

    REWOP AGIMA
    REWOP AGIMA
    REQOP AGIMA

    wait. Shit.

    When’s the next confluence? Eight hundr… oh, bloody hell.

    Sorry everyone. Sorry.

  20. Vanderdecken says:

    BALLS, I am literally in this pub tomorrow, but not in London on Wednesday. Arses, tits and anatomical swears.