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    Thursday, October 12, 2006

    Antipathy Under Fire

    In the 18 months this blog has been running, we’ve taken abuse from all sorts. It’s understandable – human nature means anyone who disagrees with a viewpoint will always be much more likely to bother to respond than if they agree. We learnt that when we disappeared for three months and previously silent supporters e-mailed us until we came back.

    Most of the flack we’ve taken has been from certain types of people. Someone we’ve criticised directly or disagreed with their viewpoint, or one of their friends or colleagues. Sometimes fans of a company or writer will jump in to defend their idol. Fair enough, but it’s always weird when someone who’s completely unrelated to the industry pipes up and joins with the nay-sayers, but there’s usually a motive.

    If you read MCV or follow the blog, you’ll know about a recent article David McCarthy wrote about new games journalism and the letter we wrote in response. It was standard fare for us. There was nothing new in our arguments, we were just taking the opportunity to put them in print and in context with the views of another writer. And so it took us by surprise when we opened the next week’s issue (29/9) to find two-thirds of the letters page had been dedicated to us.

    One of the letters was by Stuart Campbell. We won’t bother typing it here as it wasn’t one of his better pieces of work, (feel free to stick a link to a scan in the comments section if you like though) as despite claiming to be addressing our rants about NGJ, he was really just having another moan about us being anonymous.

    “Why doesn’t he say so using his real name (or even just ‘Bill Smith’ or whatever), instead of cultivating the (cough) mysterious ‘RAM Raider’ persona?”

    What difference would using “Bill Smith” instead of “RAM Raider” make? Oh well, moving on…

    The letter which really caught our eye was by a certain John N Sutherland who is a self-professed “Senior Lecturer in Video Games” for the University of Paisley (funny they only offer courses on computer games technology and art – not quite the same thing, is it?). If it was April, we’d have thought he was having a laugh. In fact we still thought it was someone having a laugh, but this guy really exists. Here’s his largely incomprehensible letter:

    “RAM Raider descends in the lowest form of naff media-ism. It’s the kind of laugh, grunt and burp school of boys drinking their first beer from a bottle. What form of mass entertainment other than games would consider taking his (I assume Ram is a him) approach to critical enquiry into the medium? (The kind of industry which rates Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter the BAFTA-winning game of the year seeing as you’re asking.)

    Indeed, what, when and how he says what he says is itself a text to be duly analysed. He is part of the message that games put out: a sniggering in darkened rooms at block graphics, of body parts coming apart in mock gore, tempting the Daily Mail to mock schlock horror. (Yes readers, he’s subjecting a rant-blog to an NGJ-style analytical deconstruction. You couldn’t make this shit up.)

    There is another possibility, which is the one used in the critical analysis of movies, television, music, drama, books, painting, clothing, language, form, etc. It is to ask the question: what is going on here? Video games are not a unique medium never seen before; they are simply another mass entertainment medium as capable of being subject to deep questioning as any other form of human activity.

    From where he stands, Ram Raider is quite possibly, as he admits, incapable of understanding this ‘crap’: the analyses, concepts and sentences used by such critical analysis. But, with a little more education I’m sure he could.

    There are probably a range of courses on textual criticism available at his local universities. For one, he needs to realise that objectivity is not an absolute. For example, the meaning of a word such as ‘fun’, which is core the video gaming [sic], is almost entirely subjective. I too play games that I enjoy playing. The question is: why?”

    Yes – why? Why talk a load of fucking bollocks about games when you’re supposed to be entertaining and informing your readers – that’s what I’ve been banging on about for so long now.

    Perhaps Sutherland should take his own advice on reading up on how to write a legible piece, as responses from friends and colleagues we showed this to ranged from “Is it meant to be a poem? The structure’s all fucked, he’s trying to make it into a poem” to “He’s taking the piss – he must be.”

    The best response was from a veteran games journalist who wrote for the mags in the 8-bit glory days of the C64 and Spectrum. Being away from the industry and games journalism for so long, he was completely baffled by it all.

    “None of this shit went on in my day. I mean, who the fuck cares? We just had to load up the tape and write some shit about whether it was worth buying. It’s like these people are writing in a different language now – how is that helping? Jesus Christ, I’m pleased I got out of this lark. What a load of bollocks.”

    Amen. Anyway, our response was published the following week (6/10):

    “My goodness, it looks like I’ve got some thanking to do. After Stuart Campbell pitched up last week asking why I moan about NGJ (although he seemed far more perturbed by my anonymity), along comes Mr. Sutherland to answer the question for me.

    From a ‘senior lecturer in video games’ (suddenly ‘Games Journalist’ doesn’t look so bad on the old CV), Sutherland’s letter is a living and breathing embodiment of exactly the kind of nonsense that needs to be kept out of games journalism.

    In a series of disjointed and unrelated paragraphs which appear to be making points but, upon closer inspection, aren’t actually saying anything, Mr. Sutherland suggests I’m too thick to understand the needless deconstruction of the magic of gaming.

    I’ll be sure to sign up to his three year degree course in video games at the earliest opportunity to rectify this, and get to know the three people in the UK who failed their A-levels whilst I’m learning a whole new art.

    I’d also like to thank Mr. Sutherland for putting me straight on a few things that I’d so foolishly been mistaken on. Objectivity is a relatively recent concept apparently – and there was me thinking it had been around as long as subjectivity. Aren’t I silly!

    And ‘fun’ is also actually almost entirely subjective, which makes virtually unanimous praise of excellent games such as Half-Life and Elite nothing but a hilarious coincidence. What a fool I’ve been all this time!

    Thank you, Mr. Sutherland. Thank you for proving my point about why over-analysis of video games should stay well away from the realm of games journalism.

    And thank you for making me quite literally laugh my grunting, burping backside right off.

    ‘Bill Smith’
    RAM Raider Towers”


    1. But Elite *is* shit!

    2. James Smedley5:51 am

      I don't really know what's going on, but the lecturer does seem to be a bit of a bizarre caricature, eh?

    3. This reminds me of all the people complaining that Studio 60 is bad because they don't understand some of the references. As the programme itself muttered, "'Smart' as a pejorative."

      Sutherland is writing in University Speak. And I quite agree, such a form of prose is inappropriate for a trade rag. However, it's quite common for those who make a career out of studying text and semiotics to have difficulty escaping the language necessary to 'efficiently' communicate the subject. This is not an excuse, and Sutherland should have written more openly, and failed to communicate effectively as a consequence. However, what he has written is coherent, and interesting.

      The problem is - despite your friend's complaining that all he had to do was "write some shit" - for those who have the energy, will and knowledge, there's a great deal more to be received from texts such as videogames.

      You've decided there's not, because you've set yourself a ceiling, and should anyone dare go near it you'll scream and scream until you're sick. It's intolerable that someone else might be receiving something more than you, but rather than attempt to listen to them, or learn from them, you instead screw your hands into fists and hold your breath until they stop.

      As Sutherland says, were you to study the subject, it would reveal itself. And you'd get more out of the texts of gaming. But instead you will have a fit that I said "texts", and further insult games and developers by announcing that they are nothing other than flashing colours, and anyone who sees more is a desperate follower of the naked Emperor.

      You will maintain that games writing should be restricted to the party clown of journalism, cracking a couple of jokes and giving the graphicsosity at score out of 10.

      There is more. You don't want to see it, and that's fine. It really is. What doesn't make sense is your fury that no one else should be allowed to see more.

    4. I think the point about using the moniker "Ram Raider", instead of some random name is that Ram Raider, although not your real name, is still a recognised name, and carries a certain bagage , kudos, reputation, whatever you want to call it. Wheras a truely anonymous article, would stand up (or fall down) on it's own merits.

      At least that's how I See it...


    5. mitch3:34 pm

      Scan here:

      Best Stu Campbell quote, "And heaven knows, Kieron can be a spectacular clattering idiot."

    6. the TUSKAN Raider4:27 pm

      Gotta pretty much agree with John above there Rammy. Sutherland should have used a more appropriate writing style - journalism is about punch and pith rather than caveats and sub-clauses - but the fact remains that games can be examined as a product of our culture and thus refect it. As John says, the ceiling can be set higher.

      My own point is this (and I'l love you to tell me if you agree or not). What the hell has this to do with NGJ? My own take on NGJ is one of pointless first-person narratives taking place within a game with the reviewer going off on self-indulgent fictional reveries at the expense of the reader's time. Crappy stories set within the game world etc. I don't see how this has any similarity to the type of degree-level writing of which Sutherland expounds.
      I'll happily agree that an in-depth discussion of semiotics within games has no relevance in a mainstream games publication, but to lump it in with (what I previously understood as) NGJ is unfair, and to simply label this sort of take on gaming as 'bollocks' is so ignorant as to make me fucking cringe.

    7. I partly agree with both Walker and Tuskan - he is talking in university drivel-speak which has no place in games journalism. My argument has always been that NGJ has no place in games mags as it's dragging down OGJ / good games journalism. There's a place for NGJ and academic discussion - well away from the once great mags.

      Malc - I still don't really see your point. When I write as RAM Raider, the reputation the name carries with it is attached, but then so is a piece written by Stu Campbell or Dave Perry etc (all better journalists than me, but you see my point). If I wrote every piece with a different anonymous name, it would be as pointless as any other journalist doing so, and it would be confusing for the reader.

    8. SkyKid2:32 pm

      Using an ornate pseudonym, "RAM Raider", rather than "Bill Smith" appears like an attempt to put yourself alongside the "Batman"s, "Deep Throat"s and "Ultimate Warrior"s of the world.

      However, instead of saving Gotham, exposing deep seated political scandal or bodyslamming people, you spend your energies bleating about the perilous iceberg NGJ in the path of the jolly ship games-journalism.

      NGJ's not your beverage of choice, fine. Does that mean it's not to everyone else's taste, too?

      Let's have some proper exposés or at least a suplex, please.

      Or maybe *gasp* a games review?...

    9. Flowery Twat9:53 am

      Yes, Skykid!

    10. What's wrong with 'Daniel Emery'?

    11. major tom12:19 am

      If nothing else, we can all agree on one thing.

      We all fucking hate Tim Rogers.

    12. Pisssssss5:34 pm

      Definitely one of the most entertaining sites I visit. Keep it up everyone.

      Also, to everyone: regarding giving games journalism a personality - only talk about yourself if you're interesting. You probably aren't.

    13. Rim Togers2:53 pm

      I have to disagree with major tom, I like Tim Rogers and find his work to be witty and insightful.

    14. i agree that ngj is shit. but if twats want to read it and it sells magazines then who can blame publishers for selling it.