This Year In Video Game Blogging 2016 – Post-Mortem

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Has it really been seven years of me doing This Year In Video Game Blogging. Good lord.

I hate myself for doing this. Without a doubt, every time I do this project I hate myself and promise myself outrageous things like, “I’m never doing it again.” It’s painful, exhausting and I usually end up miserable for the entire duration of December. Skipping both birthday and Christmas in my efforts to get this shit done.

But, before we go any further, I must link the methodology post for how we do the year end roundup. The basic process for what and how we compile the links is explained there and I’m going to be using it as a guideline for this post-mortem. Also, instead of presenting all the stats of this year’s TYIVGB project at the beginning, I’ll sprinkle them throughout where they’re relevant.

Usually, the whole project gets underway at the beginning of December. It’s long, involved and requires a surprising amount of prep work. However, this year started much earlier. I started prep work for it back in October.

This was because I hadn’t read anything since about May. I picked up the occasional article from my twitter feed, but I had just stopped reading my RSS reader or the TWIVGBs. A big part of the reading process for the TYIVGB project is memory. Being able to remember a piece is so important to making the process go faster as I can then skim a lot instead of reading a piece fully. My RSS reader at that point has swelled to over 4200 pieces. After a week or so of dedicated reading I was able to cut that down to 2500. I stayed about that level through December, keeping up with the new stuff coming out. The main reason I didn’t do better was the election.

It affected everybody in our small circle pretty badly. November was basically me keeping up with the new and keeping myself informed of the greatest garbage fire event of 2016. My catch up reading had to be put by the wayside. When December rolled around I still wasn’t paying attention to the work I should be doing. In fact, I didn’t get started till over halfway through the month. Given that it usually takes me the full month to do it, I was in for a rough ride and I knew it.

Immediately I wrote the Now Accepting Reader Suggestions for TYIVGB. I based it off of previous years’ announcements, but Zoya thought it was too harsh and would put people off. I will admit, bitterness at people not being able to follow instructions had crept in. Every year I usually schedule myself the 24th and 25th off, my birthday and Christmas respectively, and every year I end up working on those days regardless. So, yes I do get extremely irritated when people forced me to do more work because they can’t follow basic instructions.

This year, Zoya and I chatted about how to redo the announcement. In the conversation, he asked why we didn’t use Twitter. It was a relic of how we compiled the links in previous years. Zoya has created a new system using bots that automatically gathers links from various sources together into one place. I also offhandedly mentioned I wish I could just show people what I wanted, which of course we could by just adding in pictures. The post went up the following week because Zoya had to make sure the system worked. That’s part of the reason it went up so late.

Then I got started reading.

Total number of individual TWIVGB links from 2016: 1007

Largest month: April with 137 links

Smallest month: December with 40 links. It’s always December. We skipped two weeks.

Smallest week: Tied, third week of June and first week of August with 11 links.

Largest week: Last week of April with 42. Near the record holder.

Percentage of links in the first four months: 43%

My base pool that I draw contenders for TYIVGB are the TWIVGB roundups. In other words, if it isn’t in that pool, I don’t look at it. Though as you can see above that is enough material to check as is.

I started so late. It turned out my rate was one month worth of TWIVGB per day. Which would have been fine if at that rate I wouldn’t have finished step one of this process the day before the whole thing was due. My only hope was the early hump 2016 had. Most of the links were concentrated in the first four months of the year. And after four days I was able to then get through a month and half, then two months and then I just finished off the year, the day after Christmas.

I should also note that I didn’t really have an auto-include list this year. It’s part of the process that gives me a baseline. I had a vague notion of three links I knew would get in, but I didn’t have a written list compiled throughout the year like I did during previous projects. Though, I guess those three count as my auto-include list. Smallest one ever.

Additionally, I say I read every piece included in the TWIVGB roundups, but that isn’t exactly true. There were a number of links that were no longer alive. Some links were 404′d just because the site changed how they did their URLs, most notably early ZAM. I just googled the piece based on the description and corrected the link in the roundup while I was at it. However, many more were just dead. The Arcade Review, Sufficiently Human, erik twice reviews, CaeronBryce.com and Post Mortem Magazine. Those sites lead nowhere. I do have the text from the first two because my desktop RSS reader downloads everything, but what would be the point of including any if I couldn’t link to the piece. Given that I didn’t bother reading them.

Total number of reader suggestions: 184

Total number of unique reader suggestions (those not duplicated on my list or by other readers): 151

Number of reader suggestions submitted after the deadline: 27

Number of reader suggestions submitted after publication: 4

I don’t check on anything outside of TWIVGBs, save for the reader suggestions. This is where you all can help cover any holes or point out work that we might have missed through the normal course of the year.

The deadline is chosen on purpose. If you send a recommendation afterwards, I’m not going to see it, nor bother to read it. The deadline is there because it gives me enough time to read and evaluate all the suggestions and then do all the other steps of the project in time to hit the end of the year deadline. Remember, reading all the links and compiling a final longlist is step one.

I don’t know what goes through people’s heads when they’re imagining me working on TYIVGB. I get the distinct impression, despite me every explaining how it is, that people think I look like this while working:

Man reading in armchair

When, in reality, it’s far more accurate the process looks like this:

mtg_browse

Size of longlist: 195 links

Most represented author in the longlist: Don’t know for sure, either Robert Rath of Heather Alexandra

Step two is the real kicker of this whole project. I should note that this year was another first for me. Since I began doing this project in 2010, I have always had someone helping me to one degree or another. This was the first year I’ve ever done TYIVGB all alone from beginning to end.

This is not much of a problem during the reading section of the process. In fact, as I’ve learned over the years, it is preferable. It time intensive, doesn’t sound great over a Skype call, and can actually cost more time to do it that way. The process is not just about evaluating whether a piece is good or not, but keeping the shape of the whole of the year in mind. Allowing the brain to do the subconscious work of discerning thematic threads and preliminary organizing.

Imagine, for example, there were two people splitting the work. The second person reads a great piece on such and such a game and includes it in the long list, like they should. But they wont know that the first person had read a better, more comprehensive piece covering a lot of the same points and included that in the longlist already. Ultimately, both pieces would have to be read by one person and evaluated anyway, so why add more effort to the process?

However, with the next step, the culling, it is a different story.

Before I go any further I should mention a few thing that the tight scheduling changed. I usually end up with a long list of 300-400 links. The reading is only a first pass and I usually want to see the whole year before I start making more drastic cuts. When in doubt, I’ll often just toss it onto the list with the mental understanding that piece will be first against the wall. I didn’t have time for that second pass. No one should ever hear my inner monologue of this year’s process. I was vicious and cruel towards every piece I read. To those rejected and those accepted.

As a result I ended up with a longlist of 195 links, the smallest ever. I can usually get the couple of hundred links down to a certain point by just cutting similar material or the previously mentioned ‘up against the wall first’ pieces. Usually they’re fun piece if there ended up being room (there never ends up being room). Helping cull that down was the creation of the outline.

I should say, the goal has always been under 100 links. I think I’ve achieved that twice. The problem is that I can cut the list down only so far by myself. In years past, at this point, I call up Kris Ligman, as editor-in-chief, on Skype, to hash out the last parts of the culling. Kris and moved on and, once again, screwed by the late start, I didn’t have the time to set up a meeting with new editor-in-chief Zoya Street. Especially since it would have been on the 30th.

The reading may have been long and the writing might be tedious, but this final culling stage is the most agonizing part of the process. I always feel like I want to die, like I’m worthless and end up sick to my stomach. That’s not new. What was new was how painful it was to make every cut. I had to talk myself into letting go of every link as opposed to musing why it should be let in. The outline was very helpful. Instead of just a mess of links essentially in a pile, seeing them in some semblance of order clarifies what is in overabundance and what is missing.

It’s trying to represent everything from the entire year in as few links as possible. And that’s no just making sure you touch on all the major games that were talked about. You also want to represent events, ideas, arguments, publications, authors. Nearly every link is pulling double or triple duty to cover as much as possible. The golden link would be one that manages to do all six. There has never been a link that has managed to represent something from all six.

It’s a process in managing as much as it is curation. I want to be able to cover the conversation around a game as well as possible. It took a great deal of restraint to not jam in a Chris Franklin or Noah Caldwell-Gervais video under every game heading. Though there did come a point when I had to do just that.

Thing I said out loud during the outline/culling process: “Why do I only have one piece on Doom? And why is it on the 1993 Doom?”

Sometime holes become apparent late in the process and have to be patched over. And sometimes you know you have a hole, but are waiting to see what other hole you can help fill. I also knew I wanted an interview by Robert Whitaker from his History Respawned channel, but didn’t know which one to go with. So, I waited to see what hole I could help patch up at the end of the process and went with that interview.

Sometimes games get under represented. Pokemon Go is a perfect example. For as much attention as the game chewed up this year, in the end, only one piece made it to the final list. Two if you count a design piece that touches on an issue important to the game, but without going into it specifically. There just wasn’t a whole lot of criticism worth highlighting about the game. A game may capture attention, but inspires nothing to say.

There was also the case of potential over representation. You might note that there are two pieces on Homefront: The Revolution in there. This is your reminder that Homefront: The Revolution was a game from 2016. What you don’t know is that this was 100% of the pieces written about Homefront: The Revolution in the TWIVGB roundups. Overrepresented? Without a doubt, but I considered them too important thematically not to include.

I noted in the intro that the emerging theme of the year was resistance to the staid modes of thinking, of orthodoxy. Given where 2016 ultimately went I cannot unsee how important these criticisms were in light of the year and how important they would be going forward. They over represent a needless game, but are perfectly representative of criticism we need to hear more of.

In some cases it was easier to see everything in order, in others is only made letting go that much harder. Have them organized in an outline, I could see the rhetorical arguments made by the act of placing different pieces in proximity and what would be lost by having one of the associating links disappear.

I stood up from my desk dozens of times to stomp around the room. I would leave the room and come back. It was agony. You cannot underestimate having someone who hasn’t been with these links for weeks. When you are deep in the project, the longer you spend with the potential idea the harder it is to let go. Having an editor come in and put their foot down is immensely helpful. It also helps clarify why a piece makes it in when I have to defend its inclusion, out loud, to another person.

One piece I do regret not being able to squeeze in was this one about Englishness in video games, what it gets represented as and how it perpetuates a false view of the nation as a whole. It was published on January 1st and seems so prescient for what was to come. It also ticked my notion of having a piece from the very beginning of the year, possibly even leading off with it, as the perfect vehicle to introduce this garbage fire of a year. But, in the end, even pieces I like have to meet the chopping block. My personal whims can only count for so much.

This year’s end of year roundup is also notable for what is missing just as much for what eventually made it in. This is the first year Extra Credits was not represented at all. Most of their stuff was good on a weekly basis, but the one piece I felt was better for the year was on Baldur’s Gate dungeon design, a game covered, not in the same way, but far more extensively by Mr. Gervais. So EC didn’t make it in. Same with Feminist Frequency. They got no representation this time around.

This year also marks the first time nothing of mine made it into TYIVGB. Every year, I set aside my work from the TWIVGB roundups and have someone else choose what gets included. Their word is law. I have no say. This year it was editor-in-chief Zoya. I only had two pieces, but given I only wrote two essays this year that means I had a 100% conversion rate. I think only Brendan Vance can say the same. So, it’s my own damn fault for not writing more. It did force another decision on my part.

Last year we created two new categories. Industry criticism, which is a category I should have made much sooner, and a separate category specifically for pieces written by the staff. This year there was only one piece by a staff member,. As such, I didn’t feel it was necessary to separate Zolani’s piece from the game section to be all by its lonesome.

Aside from the outline, another thing that cut down on unneeded busy work, and really helped immensely at all stages of the project, was my second screen. In prior years, I had only my laptop to do all the organizing. Which meant I have to shuffle multiple word documents around the screen as I passed links back and forth. Those and the browser windows I opened to check the links in were all clamoring for valuable real estate. I can’t say how many hours must have been cut off the work load by simply being able to see everything at once thanks to the second screen. Not being able to see everything means the mental process of figuring out how to put TYIVGB together takes longer and that I have to double and triple check things because out of sight, out of mind. However, while each click may only take a second or two, it all adds up and I can say how much combined time that saved.

I thought the list was barebones at around the 120 mark and I still managed to cut. There are probably holes I didn’t mean to create because of it. By the time I hit 107 I honestly couldn’t think of what else to take away.

Total number of links represented in TYIVGB: 107

Person who showed up in TYIVGB the most: Heather Alexandra with 5.

The new post format Zoya set up was a godsend. I have trouble when I need to start writing. Doubly so when it’s the descriptions of the links. It becomes tedious and rather frustrating very quickly when one has to come up with different ways to insert the author’s name, the publication and the subject into a single line in a way that doesn’t become repetitive. The new format puts all that tedious information into the bullet point and freed up the description to solely be about the post or why it was there.

It also let me get into the swing of the act of writing before committing to the work of coming up with the words. I was able to spend an hour or so just typing the format of all the links and leaving all the descriptions for later. It was so helpful to keeping the flow going that by the time I did go back to write the descriptions themselves I was all warmed up.

Never let it be said, that even after seven years of experience in doing something, that it cannot be improved upon. I wasn’t entirely sure how I managed to do the whole project in half the amount of time it has taken before. Each year I promise myself I’ll start earlier and earlier to ease the burden. Yet, this year flies in the face of that logic. Now sitting on the other side of its release, I think it’s the fact I completely skipped doing the end of year podcast was how I was able to get everything done.

I can’t begin step two until the reader suggestions are in. Which means I can’t finish early. I’m always going to end up working on it during the last week of the year. Likewise, because of the inevitable scheduling problems, (because December is really when you want herd 3-4 people, all in different time zones, together to chat for a few hours) the podcast will have to be edited in the second half of the month. Given that the reading takes up so much time, the podcast gets pushed back till after that is done.

It’s worth noting that despite everyone always sounding miserable by the time we finish recording, everyone who has been on has expressed pleasure at having done it. I can’t imagine anyone having pleasure this year. Or rather, I didn’t want to do any talking about 20-fucking-16. It may have been too late to organize it, but ultimately I was glad for skipping it. I just personally couldn’t do it. And, in the end, it turned out to be a blessing. I’m pretty sure I was only able to finish on time because I didn’t have to spend time editing the podcast.

Time is the enemy of this project. There never seems enough of it and it is always moving forward. I was behind on this project from day one onwards. Up to the very end. I figured I’d finish writing on the 30th. Instead I couldn’t stay awake anymore and took a four hour sleep. Woke up and went right back to the computer. I finished writing and formatting it into WordPress at 10 am the day it was to go live. Then, I went and took a shower.

There was a point during this whole fiasco that I was reading a whole string of posts on crunch in the game dev world. I laughed and then nearly cried. I was wiped out after only two weeks of self inflicted crunch time, with no support. I cannot imagine the state of developers under forced crunch time for months on end.

I slept a good 12 hours the day after this was posted and about 16 hours the day after. It took nearly a week to recover. There’s probably more to tell, but then I should have written this in closer proximity to the project itself. As it is, this is all I can remember.

Oh, at some point I suddenly remembered about the Blogger of the Year award and asked Zoya to help take care of that. I was told it would be done separately and that it was taken off my hands. I was grateful, but I don’t know anything about it at this time.

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