The Critical Distance Confab Minisodes Are Back

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Yesterday, I published the first minisode in over a year for the Critical Distance Confab, the Critical Distance podcast. Instead of just advertising the fact that minisodes are back, I’d like to take this chance to go over the whole story behind them: the behind the scenes thinking that went into them, why they left and why they’re now back.

This story begins at the end of 2014.

For the end of the round up podcast, Kris suggested we should list three games we liked or wanted to highlight from that year and one non-game thing. They’re all listed in the show notes of that episode if you care to look. I really liked how that part of the podcast turned out, especially since so many of the games were ones none of the other panelists had heard of before. Except Alan’s games, but he knows that.

This inspired the idea of the minisode.

Originally, it had been a bit of a struggle to figure out what exactly to do with the podcast. After many different experiments, mostly failed ones that never saw the light of day, eventually we landed on the idea of the interviews with creators in the critical community. But I still wanted to expand what I could do with the podcast.

The minisodes were to be an addition to the main line episodes of the podcast. They would aim to be half the length where myself and a co-host would present some games that hadn’t gotten the critical spotlight in an effort to get them some attention. Ultimately, the hope was that some of our listeners would pick up the torch and write about one or two of them giving them the attention we felt they deserve.

I had some rules regarding the minisodes in an effort to keep them diverse.

1. No duplicate games.
2. Each episode would have a different co-host.
3. Co-hosts would be mostly non-cis-straight-white men.

The purpose of these rules was to cultivate a series that would expand not only what games got talked about, but who got to talk about them. One of Critical Distance’s main pillars as a site is community building. I wanted to expand the range of who would appear on a podcast beyond the standard cis-straight, white, middle-class male. I used to joke, “I’m on every episode, so we’ve got that perspective covered.”

As the person who was going to appear on every single minisode, I legitimately thought at the beginning of this that the most difficult part would be finding three new games to talk about each month. However, I was completely wrong. Scheduling guest co-hosts fitting my self imposed criteria was far, far more difficult.

See, finding a different person each month is easy enough. Finding people that fit the demographic I was looking for is doable. Finding people that could talk about unheard of games is tricky, but was not a big issue. It was the combination of the three rules that was the problem. Add to that the fact I’d soon be asking people who I’ve never talked to before, who don’t know this random stranger asking them onto a podcast and are in a demographic that such a thing would legitimately send up red flags, it was a headache and a half.

I was reduced to begging on twitter, not always successfully, more than once. It was so bad that at one point I literally walked down the hall and dragged a friend from his bedroom to a hastily set up recording studio for an episode because I was out of options and under a deadline. I managed 13 episodes before I completely burned out.1

It was a pity, because I loved doing them. They were far more relaxed than the interview format usually is. I got to hear genuine interest when I pulled something new they hadn’t heard of. And I got to hear fascinating insights on games I’d never heard of. But the barrier to that enjoyment was too high.

Then, last year, we ran donation drive in an effort to get the Critical Distance Patreon back up to sustainable status. Zoya asked around for ideas for updating the Patreon goals and reward tiers. One of the things we discussed was bringing back the minisodes as part of one of the goals.

Well, we reached that goal some time ago.

At first we discussed if we could try to do something else, make the minisodes be about something other than guests talking about unheard of and uncritiqued games. We came up with one or two ideas that excited me in concept and as soon as I tried to figure out how to pull them off, realized how much more work it would be than even the previous format was. So the idea lay fallow.

Then Zoya came back to me and asked after the minisodes and I explained to him all the above. He asked me if those rules were necessary. And I answered, “they are for me.” I didn’t feel I was in any position to disregard them, self-imposed as they may have been. I’ve heard too many stories, on both sides of the editor/writer relationship, how simple barriers were enough to put off efforts to diversify both staff and freelance opportunities. I didn’t and don’t want to fall into the rolodex problem our industry has.

I needed permission to disregard them. Thankfully, I didn’t need to disregard them, not all of them and not all the time. Remember, the rules by themselves are fine, it was their combination that was the problem.

What follows is what we came up with.

1. No duplicate games.
2. Preferences for co-hosts would be non-cis-straight, white men.

The most important rules remained. Wanting someone different every month is nice and something I’ll still strive for, but hampering myself out of a stable of reliable guest co-hosts was a shackle too far. I was also given permission to relax the near requirement of the demographics for co-host to a strong preference in the interest of getting out the Patreon funded content that was promised.

In addition to all that, the minisodes had another, but much more addressable problem. They had grown far too long. They were almost the length of full episodes. In now way were they “mini.” They needed to be trimmed back to the originally planned 15 minutes that I never managed to hit even once in the original run. Thankfully, with some experience under my belt as to how long two people can breezily talk about a game, it was easily solved with a slight format change.

Instead of talking about three games a piece, the new format only calls for myself and my co-host to bring a single game to the table each month. This easing of requirements will also help in getting prospective co-hosts. It’s a lot less to ask for the person to only bring one game than it is to ask them to bring three.

The minisodes are coming back. The first episode of the new batch is already live on Critical Distance. Enjoy.

  1. Actually, I’m pretty sure I burned out two episodes prior, but I started a little gimmick in the show notes that amused me and only me and hell if I was going to give up on it until the trilogy played out.

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