This Year In Video Game Blogging 2014 – Post-Mortem

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This is my fifth This Year In Video Game Blogging feature. That means I have been apart of Critical Distance for over 5 years. That still hasn’t quite sunk in.

I wrote up the methodology for how the TYIVGB feature gets done at the beginning of the month, but I figured I’d still do a post-mortem talking about how it actually went down. I had so much to say when I was silently trudging through the entire list of things to read and consider. Now I find myself somewhat silent now that it is out.

I guess first I should say that the list is not definitive. That should be self evident. To those who would comment it is unnecessary to say, it really really is. I freely admit that list is not perfect. Nor is it necessarily the list I would ultimately make. Time is forever the greatest of editors. The lack of it always forces shortcuts and compromises. It also can fosters interesting results and insights.

By The Numbers

Every year up until now I use the introduction to give a quick rundown of what I had to do to create this list. This year we had the methodology post to link to. But the one thing I did to give readers and sense of understanding is by listing the numbers. How many unique links were in the TWIVGB posts? How many unique reader suggestions did we receive? The answers in order are 1,186 and 222. I can’t be bothered to separate out the reader suggestions from the curator suggestions, so that last number is both of them combined.

To be clear. Those are unique links. I spent a good two hours, at least, clearing out duplicates. I was deep into the process of reading when I was still coming across links I thought I’d already included only to find it was another copy.

I don’t know how many posts I pulled out of the TWIVGBs to check for consideration of the feature. I could go and count them, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is after clearing out all the duplicates is how many were in the longlist. This is what caused the feature to be late and caused me so much aggravation. This was by far the longest longlist I’ve ever had to deal with. 367 individual links for consideration. A good segment of which I hadn’t read before. The longest long list I had before didn’t break 300. I don’t think it got much passed 200.

Interestingly enough, this year, I believe, was the shortest auto-shortlist I’ve ever had. Prior years I’d get about a third of the eventual feature out of the auto-shortlist. This year? Wouldn’t have made a decent sized weekly roundup.

Most recommended site? Paste Magazine, by a long shot.

Single most recommended piece? Austin Walker’s Real Human Being: Shadow of Mordor, Watch Dogs and the New NPC.

Must have gotten it over a dozen time. One person sent it in with the caveat, “If you only included on thing from my suggestion list, make it this one.” It was on the auto-shortlist. Though, I do like when that happens. Means I’m on the right track.

So how many links eventually made it into TYIVGB? 138. By far the largest number ever. Previously, we always got it down under three digits. This year I handed Kris a list of 150+ to cut down. Not happy. But even our esteemed Senior Curator could only knock out about 10 or so links, before being unsure of what else could go.

Essentially, everything was bigger this year.

Things I’ve Learned

At the very top of the list is something I never thought I’d have to explain or formally institute. In the next request for reader suggestions I’m going to have to explicitly state how to send links in. URLs ONLY! No hypertext. All you do by sending a hypertext — like so — is cause me more work. I have to spend time opening, copy-pasting and linking every single time this happens. Individually it’s only a few seconds until you realize there’s dozens if not a hundred of these to do. Then the processor starts chugging, because they did something to Firefox so it can’t handle the load anymore and bleh. I wasted over an hour doing this just so I could organize the links. I need to be able to see at a glace what that article is and I can only do that by seeing the URL. Giving me the title and hypertexting it does jack shit for me.

Never had to explain that before. Now I do.

No matter how much you say it, someone will always suggest a link from another year. I got at least three suggestions to include a 2013 piece for a round up of 2014 criticism. I only noticed one of them because I could read the URL.

The bigger thing is that this method of year review isn’t going to work anymore. We’re getting to a size and strain that even a month is not enough. The problem isn’t the work. Apparently, if I do nothing else, I can get it done in 3-4 solid days. Great, I’m capable of doing it. I never want to do that again. My heart and blood pressure still haven’t quite forgiven me. My body was gross and disgusting by the end of it. And I think  my right shoulder was starting to get some kind of rash.

So, I’m going to do what I should have started a long time ago. I’m going to start consideration for the year end list in March. Every three months I’m going to go over the TWIVGB and filter out what I think will be good to include and keep a list tracking it. By the time December rolls around I only have three months to consider along with all reader/curator suggestions. It lessons the burden considerably. It wasn’t the work so much as having this monstrosity in front of me. The stress nearly pushed me to tears a few times. It also means I can patch what is starting to become a big failing in the system.

Holes In The Methodology

No system is perfect. As much as our methodology has grown and adapted over the years, there is still one giant gaping flaw in the whole thing. It relies on memory. Specifically, my memory.

Previously, it was only a minor annoyance. Now it has to deal with the problems of scale. See a lot of the time I have to reread things to figure out what it was about. I might remember liking a piece, but not quite what it was about. This is true for both pieces that got included as those that were eventually cut.

The auto-shortlist is compiled of things wholly from my memory. They’re the pieces I remember before I do my digging, without prompts or help jogging it. Brendan Keogh jokingly and affectionately called me the resident librarian of the critical gaming community in the forward to his book Killing is Harmless. I am willing to help anyone track down a piece or a collection of stuff written about a game. Did so quite a few times this year for people. I spend a lot of time surveying the critical community and pieces tend to stick in one’s mind. But it’s a mistake to rely on it so heavily.

I don’t know if it’s information overload or if I was never all that good at remembering things in the first place and I just got lucky, but I’m having a tough time keeping everything straight in my head. Case in point: I don’t know why Ian Bogost’s Mountain piece didn’t make it in. I mean that very literally. I remember it being in the longlist. I don’t ever remember deleting it. Yet, it wasn’t there. Even worse I didn’t realize it wasn’t there or, at some point, during all the reorganizing of the outline did I go, “Hey, where’s the Mountain piece?” Yet, memory is the main crutch by which I do this feature. 1186 pieces is too much for any person to read let along consider carefully and that’s before outside suggestions get added to the pile.

Remember I said lack of time can create some interesting perspectives. There is a boon to relying on memory, so long as one recognize that it’s faulty.

What Went Right

This is probably my favorite TYIVGB list I’ve done to date. I’ve learned a lot about the gritty details of curation in my time at Critical Distance, but only recently have I given any consideration or study to the philosophy of curation.

Originally, it was all about collecting what I thought were the best pieces of writing and then filling in conversation gaps. Oh we don’t have a piece about this game, quick better find one. Oh this critic hasn’t got a nod yet, better find a good example of their writing stat. I don’t like that method because it becomes a list, not a piece of curation. It’s bland. In correspondence with the other editors during the pre-work for this end of year features I mentioned that it felt like “I’m just filling in check boxes.”

I let it happen more organically this year. I went after good pieces, but then tried to piece together conversations. Overall I feel TYIVGB 2014 has a cohesive overall point, agenda, meaning, whatever you want to call it.

This year I reversed the way I did things. Instead of just deleting links when I decided against inclusion, I moved them to another word document when I decided in favor. It gave the illusion of progress. It also afforded me a different perspective on things. A theme was forming from adding links to a new document. The similarities were emerging from the process of adding things together instead of constantly taking away.

Another thing that lead to it being better was a willingness to break with tradition. Categories have changed over the years many times. Usually by eliminating or consolidating them. Video essays used to be their own section, for example. Right now it’s only Publications, Critical Video Game Blogging, Theory Blogging and Culture Blogging. And until this year, in that order. Why? I don’t know. I did it that way the first year and it stuck. The hashtag required a different approach. It had to come first. Many reasons. I didn’t want it to be a bomb for anyone waiting for it to eventually go off. It would feel like stalling to put it in it’s “proper” place. It had set the tone for the whole year despite only starting in August. And because while many know my feelings on it, I haven’t said much or really anything about it directly and publicly. TYIVGB is by far my most read piece of the year. For all of that and more, it wasn’t even a struggle to put it front and center as well as make it its own category.

Doing so allowed the rest of the piece just to flow. You might notice that the entire order of the categories in the direct opposite order from usual. That part was not on purpose, it just made sense as I was writing it. From Leigh Alexander’s Gamers Are Over piece it flows right into the series of representation links at the beginning of Culture Blogging. Everything flowed from there.

Throughout the piece I make nods back to that first section and the tone it set of in that first big transition. You can most readily see it with how I attribute Objective Reviews. A more subtle one is the pull quote I chose to use from Robert Rath’s Wolfenstein piece.

Memory might be a problem in some instances, especially when putting an undue burden on it. On the other hand, it helped offer this new insight. You can hear on the end of year podcast how I try to give an introduction to the year, but all I could think of was that it felt like 2013 2.0 And it did for much of the year. Then you know what happened in August and suddenly it feels like a separate decade. That original summation came from memory. My eventually summation of the 2014 is in the concluding section of of the end of year round up and I feel is far closer to the truth.

In going back through the TWIVGB I was surprised by what I found. The hashtag did not start it or change it, but segmented the year in our minds. The links we curated told a different story. The writings of critics prior to August told a different story. My memory was inaccurate, but the process allowed a new narrative to replace it.

The process also allowed me to reevaluate pieces I originally didn’t think much of or outright detested. Some writings are awful upon reading them, but are really good upon rereading them. On the other hand, some pieces I disliked on first reading, I outright loathed upon rereading it, finding new reasons to see them as awful.((No, I will not get specific in either case.)) Getting confirmation of what you think or finding something is better than you perceived is always a nice feeling.

Anything Else?

Oh plenty. Most of which I wont say, because it’s better that way. Some things get cut because of space, some get cut because we have something else either on the subject or by the same author. Any mildly interesting story about anything specific like that is not worth mentioning.

It warmed my heart to see someone else send in some of my work as a suggestion. It went onto the Eric Swain list for later consideration and one of those suggestions, not a TWIVGB entry is what Kris chose. Left it in a Google Doc and came back a few hours later with a little arrow labeled “this one.” Previously, I had only pieces in Critical Video Game Blogging and Culture Blogging. Now I got a piece under Theory Blogging.

Find Replace

That stings Kris. That really stings.

Interesting choices get made when you put things in context of flow. Cara Ellison’s Games, Noir and the 17%: Where Are The Women? went into Culture Blogging as part of that string of representation pieces, because is it really about L.A. Noire? No, it’s about the 17%.

Lot of pieces I liked ended up on the cutting room floor. That is always the case. I always had to keep reminding myself, it isn’t about the best, it’s about cultivating an outline of what 2014 was. Some really good writing just didn’t fit. Just think if we did try to get under 138 links, how much more would be missing.

Kind of missed Micheal “Sparky” Clarkson’s mega game of the year compilation list. The one where he gets like a one to two dozen critics to choose a game and explain why it should be the game of the year. It helped patch a lot of holes for the last two years in discussing games as it got so many voices and titles all in one place. Probably was too much of a hassle. I can certainly understand that.

Kris noted on twitter, on the subject of representation, that of about the 90+ unique contributors only around a third were non-men. I assume that means women and non-binaries. If Kris says so, then it’s probably true. I haven’t counted. In fact, do this long enough and author attributions, even titles just fade away and all that’s left are the words. Though do it for long enough and those fade away too. That’s about the point I need to do something with my eyes. Still it does belie an intersectional take on it (is that the right word/phrase?). Of the men are Black men, Asian men, Hispanic men, gay men, transgender men, Native American men (or is that First Nation? Can someone please inform me which is correct.) It also doesn’t take into account that most of the people who got multiple pieces were women.

HOWEVER, straight white dudes are probably still the numeral majority of authors on the list. It would actually be kind of nice to see how all of that shakes out. Both in terms of authors and number of pieces. I’m kind of wiped, so if anyone else wants to do the work and send me the link of what you found out, I’d be interesting to read through it.

In the conclusion, where I’m creating that imagery of the box and becoming bigger in an area that stays the same, I say it’s constricting the body. The idea is that over time we grow and eventually the walls close in on us, put pressure on us. I almost wrote at the end of it, “we can’t breath.” Thankfully I stopped my fingers before they hit the keyboard with that phrase. Constricting was enough I think.

With regards to the hashtag category, I was thinking of taking a page out of John Oliver’s book and making a promise that if you get through this with me, at the end I would give you a funny video as compensation. I seriously considered doing that. But then, I didn’t want to have to make the case or defend the tactic to Kris and just didn’t bother. However, this is my site. So as a reward and in thanks for making your way through this entire post-mortem, I give you Adam Jenson from Deus Ex: Human Revolution doing the Safety Dance. It got me through part of this weekend. Enjoy.

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