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People Who Are Good At Writing About Games

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Inspired by a question someone asked Kieron on his Formspring, I’ve decided to write a little bit about some of my favourite writers on the topic of videogames. Kieron would probably make the post, but I’ll resist mentioning him too much, since I’ll be seeing him on Saturday, and he’d only take the piss. Let’s just say that reading his Deus Ex review in 2000 coincided with the moment I began to seriously consider trying to build a career out of writing about computer games.

Who else? Well, I wasn’t really reading games mags when Stuart Campbell and J. Nash were in their prime, and although I’ve visited their work at a later date, it was that sort of second-hand discovery that – while it’s obviously brilliant – never really resonated like it should have.

This might inflate a few egos. I hope it does. I’ll try give a mix of the more-obvious and the less-obvious, including perhaps a couple of complete wildcards. And, of course, totally right-at-this-moment – as in, you tell me I have to pick a bunch of games writing to read tonight and tonight alone, and this is what I’ll go through. Tomorrow it might change. The day after it definitely will have.

Here we go, then:

Quintin Smith
Bloody Quinns.

Kieron mentioned in his Formspring answer that Ste Curren made him simultaneously infuriated and excited. That’s what I’m like with Quinns. I want him to write a new article every hour for the rest of my life, and I also want him to die in a fire.

This man knows everything about games. And he’s also impossibly articulate. More strikingly, though, his prose reflects a voice in the most unique yet identifiable way imaginable. I have a rule in my writing that I’ll never type out something I wouldn’t actually say aloud in a conversation. Wanting to be as confident and flowing a writer as Quinns is one of the key reasons for that.

He’s also thorough. My goodness, he’s thorough. Just take a look at this:

Essential reading: Butchering Pathologic (part 2) (part 3)

Pat Garratt
Pat now runs pure-news-blog VG247, which serves a delightful purpose and is as astonishingly popular as it absolutely should be, but fails to let him let loose in the way he totally can do. He’s exceptional at weaving stories into his work, and is effortlessly engaging throughout. Some people can just totally craft an atmosphere with prose, and Pat is one of those people. His lifetime achievement award at the last GMAs was absolutely deserved.

He also wrote the best game preview anyone – to my knowledge – has ever produced.

Essential reading: STALKER preview

John Walker
As is the case with Quinns, actually, I kinda feel uncomfortable throwing people into this list who I sorta-know-a-bit-but-not-really. But John’s another person who’s absolutely influenced my writing, and who continues to do so. Interestingly, he’s also someone whose work I’ve been familiar with throughout his whole career, and – to me – a prime example of how a writer can grow and develop spectacularly.

What I like most about John’s present-day work is how he manages to communicate such enthusiasm within such a bare minimum of words. He leaves no room for hyperbole, and no room for saying more than is necessary. I always liked his line in his Dragon Age review for Gamer: “…one of the most enormous and astonishing of games.” Not “…games ever” or “…games of the decade” or anything – just “…of games.” Again, it’s effortless and it’s brilliant.

Essential reading: Dragon Age: Origins review

Always Black
Known in his real-world form as Ian Shanahan, AB wrote Bow Nigger as a headline. By the time it appeared in PC Gamer, that had changed to Confessions of a Jedi Knight or something, which didn’t work for a whole spectacular multitude of reasons. I totally appreciate it had to be tweaked for that sort of audience, but still. ‘Bow Nigger’ encapsulated everything that’s wonderful about the audacity and confidence with which AB writes.

This man is elusive. You’ll rarely read his work. Even on his own website, most stuff is written by Bobsy these days. But AB was kinda at least partially responsible for introducing a new genre within games journalism, and for that, he commands respect. He might not be the tightest technical writer (although he’s obviously decent at that side of things, too), but that means squat when your ideas are so good, and delivered with such tremendous conviction and pride.

Essential reading: Bow Nigger

Laura Michet
So yeah, here’s a real wildcard. Laura is someone I only first knew of a few months ago, when she pitched something on-spec to Resolution. I read it, immediately IMed Dan, and made him read it. And we immediately got back in touch with Laura with a big “WE ARE GO!” without even suggesting any edits.

For the record, this is beyond rare even with our regular contributors.

She co-runs a blog called Second Person Shooter which is read by innumerably fewer people than should be reading it. It’s a blog of actual criticism with a slightly academic leaning, even though they harp on about not wanting it to be an academic blog. She’s of the first emerging writers-on-games from the academic-games-studies crowd, you see. But one of the things I love about Laura’s writing is how accessibly she communicates complex ideas, in a way that makes you think they were never complex in the first place.

But equally wonderful about Laura is that she can also dip her toes into the totally human side of gaming, and really capture what it’s like to be a person who plays computer games. I really, really don’t think this is an approach taken enough within games criticism, and it strikes me as one of the few truly valuable approaches to take.

She’s gonna be a star, this gal. Can everyone refrain from giving her loads of money for a while, so she’ll keep writing stuff for us at Reso?

Essential reading: Let’s come up with excuses for why I die in Spelunky

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8 responses »

  1. You and me, man! We’re going places! We’re the the young blood! Please don’t wish I die in a fire!

    Reply
  2. I can totally sympathise with your view on Quinns.

    The other day I said to myself, “Why are you trying to be a lawyer when you can’t stand the thought of being one? What you should do is at least have a go at games journalism, you’ll never forgive yourself otherwise.”
    Later that day I read an article by Quinns (I think it was the Wurm piece put up on RPS).

    “/Fuck/ that”

    Reply
    • That, sans lawyer-doubt, is exactly what happens to me every couple of weeks. Here’s my plan, which will definitely work and just as definitely not fuck up completely. Point One – I’m working this year to save enough to travel.
      Now, (Point Two), from what I’ve read, Quinns-man is a travelling man. This means (logic goes here I think) that my current plotted course allows me to become more like M. Quinns without actually writing like Sir Quinns, which really makes things much easier. In terms of actually committing to the writing: I faux-jovially suggest that you go first, because, as you said, /fuck/ that.

      Reply
  3. It’s great to read about people who write about games. It seems a very thankless profession. For years I didn’t think about it, but now that I’ve considered giving writing about games a go, it’s really interesting to look at their writing in a light beyond what screenshots and videos are attached to this. And some of them (all the people here, for sure) are fantastic writers whose work I’d love to be able to come close to emulating.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: The Sunday Papers | Rock, Paper, Shotgun

  5. You should look at insomnia.ac for writing that is actually good.

    Reply
    • I find Insomnia.ac to be so frequently, maddeningly, self-consciously cynical about everything that something in my mind clicks off whenever I try to seriously read it.

      Reply

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