Culture

Games Journalism Is Boring: Go Out and Explore!

Terraria Explore

In his famous book Walden, there is a section where Henry David Thoreau writes about coming upon a massive battle between two tribes of ants. Being the sort of guy who liked to wander around in the woods until he stumbled upon something that sparked some philosophical truth in his brain, he stopped and watched this battle for a bit.

Afterward, he made this observation:

I never learned which party was victorious, nor the cause of the war, but I felt for the rest of that day as if I had my feelings excited and harrowed by witnessing the struggle, the ferocity and carnage, of a human battle before my door.

He then makes a subtle yet pointed reference to the Fugitive-Slave Bill, a bit of legislation he was a staunch opponent of.

Thoreau’s thought process is fascinating to me. He stops to observe a random thing in Nature that he finds interesting for some reason, then he uses that thing to kick off his philosophical meanderings and ultimately explain how that tiny thing is a metaphor for something profound.

That’s the approach I encourage any writing staff I work with to pursue in their own writings. Only, instead of nature, we can use a video game as the starting point.

Final Fantasy X HD

The thing about a video game world as opposed to the natural one is that the video game one is unarguably made by someone (I mean no offense to those who believe our world was meticulously created by a supreme being; I’m just illustrating a point here). Every piece of that game was made by someone for a reason. It could be something as small as a particular color evoking the right emotion in players, but those micro-decisions are made by living, breathing people.

By exploring these worlds and applying a Thoreau-like critical eye to them, we can observe things, learn things, and ultimately talk about things that might be completely unrelated to the game itself.

Dear Esther

I think we should celebrate that. While I think there’s a definite need for serious journalism in the industry, I also feel strongly that there’s room for the sort of philosophical meandering that uses video games as a platform to talk about the human experience.

This is something different than the editorial, as the editorial is more about presenting an argument and using supporting facts and evidence to back it up. I’m talking about the thing I want to call the Video Game Essay, which is more literary in nature. (This piece I wrote about DuckTales is a decent example of what I mean.)

Zelda Breath of the Wild

And it’s not like this is a thing that doesn’t exist. Sites like Unwinnable have been doing it for a while now. I just want to encourage those of us who spend day after day writing dry analysis or press release news bits to get out and explore for a while. Go submerse yourself into a world and think about the implications of some of its tiniest little functions, then sit down and write some beautiful, meaningful prose about it.

Our game worlds are full of incredible things that are just waiting to open up some deep and edifying conversation about the human experience.

Josh Wirtanen owns this place and has opinions about pretty much everything. Follow him on Twitter: @joshuajwirtanen.

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