This Year In Video Game Blogging 2015 – Post-Mortem

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Year six of This Year In Video Game Blogging.

There is a point every year in the December where I end up shouting at myself for having the stupid idea of doing the Critical Distance end of the year projects. This year was no different. While I didn’t break into tears this time, I was in no less full on panic mode by the end. So understand that this is coming after a time of calming down long after the things I had in my head to say are no longer organized nor as volatile as they were when fresh. I’m also pretty certain I’ve forgotten a number of things I could have included.

First the numbers:

Total number of individual TWIVGB links from 2015: 1058

Largest month: May with 125 links.

Smallest month: December with 58 (what did you think we only do 3 weeks) Otherwise it was July with 67.

Smallest week: First of May with 9 links, only single digit week of the year, not the record holder.

Largest week: Second week of February with 34 links, also not the record holder (First week of January also had 34 links, but that’s really 3 weeks of links, so…).

Total number of reader suggestions, including duplicates because I can’t be bothered to go back through and delete duplicates: 140

Most recommended author: haven’t a clue, though I do know it’s either Gita Jackson or Katharine Cross as their bylines showed up the most in my readings.

Person who shows up the most in TYIVGB: Austin Walker with 6 pieces, although 2 of those were shared with other writers, so tied with Gita Jackson at 4. Maybe?

I feel I should mention that unless a piece is on a personal site or blog that I know, I generally haven’t a clue who wrote what until I’m writing the actual feature and have to look. Though certain writing styles get me checking out of curiosity.

Number of videos: 9. Haven’t checked, think this might be a record.

Number of podcasts/audio: 2

Number of times I screamed to the void that I’m never, ever doing this again, nearly crying: At least 7, possibly more.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, I have some issues to address.

While we have posted the methodology of how we at Critical Distance compile This Year In Video Game Blogging, something we have updated since last year, I noticed that I seemed to have failed to explain the actual step-by-step process by which the feature comes about. Otherwise some might not have been so glib to ignore basic instructions when submitting suggestions. In fact, this year only furthered showed me where holes were in the process, so no doubt I will be making adjustments come next year.

However, before I get into that I want to relate a story of a happy accident along the way. One of the changes to the methodology was a suggestion by Editor-in-chief Kris Ligman. Kris came up with the brilliant idea of splitting the year up between 3 or 4 editors, assigning each a few months and then combining the whole into the single longlist. I jumped at the idea with fervor, adding only a single augmentation, I would quickly read through the TWIVGBs of those months that weren’t mine to make sure nothing I felt needed double checking didn’t get missed. This reduced a lot of problems when it came to emails and getting the other editors to actually respond on time. Fewer people to keep track of and it only became a problem this time around due to one of the editors having a catastrophic computer failure on the due date. Otherwise this is a change I wholeheartedly love and is one that will remain as part of the process going forward.

Now, because of a fact of scheduling with the end of year podcast, I had to get ready for it without having done the whole longlist, since two thirds of it had been farmed out to other Critical Distance editors. So I did something I had never done before. I read through all the TWIVGBs. I mean actually read them. Not scanning them for links and jogging my memories of what each URL represented, but actually read the weekly feature as pieces unto themselves. Doing this back to back for all 50 or so features revealed a narrative of the year.

On an individual weekly basis we only endeavor to give a notion of the conversations and interesting standouts that happened in that given week. Only in rare instances where a conversation continues on do we note it in the feature. And yet, reading them back to back gave me the sense of a narrative unfolding. Ideas, in different forms, from different authors not talking to one another, were repeated. Ways of expressing the topic at hand were repeated. From this I extracted the theme, if you will, of 2015.

I only did this because I didn’t keep a list of every little thing that came up during the year like I have done in years past. A list that I would later whittle down in preparation for the podcast to the major talking points. This time I created the list, a much smaller list, from this preparation. But in doing so I made the work of crafting a curatorial compilation so much easier. It is so difficult, when intensely focused on the singular piece, to then judge it against everything else on the long list. To keep all of that in one’s head is a struggle. It’s much simpler to judge it against an already existent theme and the few other pieces on the same topic. So much mental energy and time is saved.

This was a huge boon for a number of reasons. The first of which was me. Earlier in the year, some time in July, I just gave up on the whole game crit scene. I walked away let my RSS reader fill up and went and did something else. Several something elses. I continued with my podcasts and one or two pieces for PopMatters, but otherwise did not give a fuck. My subconscious knew I had to get away and do something else, and my conscious mind and body followed. Around November, I got my act together and started paying attention again and doing some catch up reading. As such I’m really grateful for Kris’ suggestion. I didn’t have the memories needed for my slash and burn method. While I still had to read all of the culled down list, that’s fine, I was going to do that anyway, it was so much easier than going through all of the potential inclusions.

The second boon was regarding the enormous time consumption this project becomes. Previously, my idea was to push my start date earlier and earlier, to the point where this year I had decided to begin in March. Every three months I would check the new TWIVGBs and put aside any links in a word document to have a list ready to go come December. For reasons above, this did not happen. Also, doing it piecemeal is a bit of a iffy scenario as some thing became so unimportant later on in the year, they weren’t worth mentioning at all. Of course reducing strain on a single person is another, much better solution. Why we didn’t think of it earlier I don’t know. It seems so obvious now.

In fact, because of this new system and being told the 27th was the deadline for TYIVGB, instead of the 30/31st as it was in previous years, Kris demanded a schedule with milestones. Here it is: By the 19th I would have the entire editor longlist in front of me. Then I spend the three days culling it into a short list. The 22nd I get the last of the reader suggestions and check on those. 104 is much easier to get through than 1058. Especially when many of them are either duplicates of each other or are already on the editors’ longlist. Then on the 23rd Kris and I have a Skype call to whittle it down to the final list and organize the links into an outline. Then I take my birthday (24th) and Christmas (25th) off, before settling down to spend all day the 26th writing the feature so it can go up on the 27th.

Almost none of that happened.

I didn’t account for catastrophic computer failure on the part of one of the contributing editors. Sufficed to say I didn’t have the longlist done until the 22nd. I then spent the next three days culling it down to a shortlist. Breaking only for birthday and Christmas dinner and generally ignoring friends and family to get this done on time. Skype call was on the 26th and I spent the 27th writing it leaving it to go up on the 28th. One day after my deadline.

On the plus side, all my estimates for how long each step would take were right on the money. Next year account some buffer time in case the unforeseen occurs. Lesson learned.

I’ve explained the concept, the methodology, the philosophy, my goals and the general practice, but never the step-by-step actions I take to get TYIVGB done. Mostly because process stories aren’t inherently interesting, but now I see it might be quite necessary to have out there.

First step is I get a slip of paper out and count up all the unique links in every TWIVGB by numbering the number of unique links in each given week. Then added up for each month and added up those totals for the year. It’s how I have all those little tidbits of accounting at the top. I used to put it in the intro of TYIVGB as a basic measure of where I’m getting these links in the first place (ie by looking through TWIVGBs) but that is no longer necessary to include as we have an actual methodology post, complete with patch notes. I still do it to include it here in the post-mortem instead and so I can quickly rattle the number off when someone brings up “however many links you went through.” It was nice to get that half moment of surprise out of Kris during the Skype call.

Incidentally, I look only at 2015 links, so holdovers from the previous year don’t get counted and I keep an eye out for duplicates as we now sometimes relink a piece if it’s relevant to something a current piece or section is talking about or if they refer to the ideas brought up in it. So the total number of links in TWIVGBs is actually a bit higher.

I compile an auto-shortlist of links I know are going in no matter what. This is basically me remembering things without prompting. I search out those pieces and then put them in a word document. Was only about a dozen this year. Most of which were publications and videos. Only two or three written pieces stood out that much in my mind. Then again I didn’t read half of the year so not really a worthwhile metric. Then I get down to going through each TWIVGB, opening in a new tab anything I remember as being really good, anything I feel needs a reread or anything that looks interesting. Then I read them and given the a quick mental nod or shake. Those that get a nod I copy and paste their URLs into a word document, which I save to my desktop periodically.

This year, when I got the lists from the other editors, I copy and pasted them wholesale into the master word document. After quickly scanning the newly added links I then scan through the associated TWIVGB to see that there wasn’t anything overlooked. I check anything interesting against my mental memory and most of the ones I feel need a reread are those already on the list. Only a handful from the other 8 months got tacked on the end.

Then I read them all. Some of them I don’t need to read to completion to know yay or nay. Some jog my memory pretty quickly, some are on unnecessary topics, some lesser variations of a piece already on the list. On the other end of the spectrum, some have a complex way of explaining their arguments or making their points, that yes I do have to read the whole thing to know what it’s about. Some of those made it into the final feature.

Incidentally, I tend to do videos differently. For those who are primarily video content creators, I tend to just go through their yearly works. I finished my part of the longlist early so I went and checked the majority of videos to make sure there wasn’t something I was forgetting. I chose one of the included videos because of this step.

It’s during all this that I had to decide how to handle certain bigger issues, issues that are complex and never leaving that…I’m talking about the hashtag that shall not be named. I spent a lot of time last year figuring out how to cover it as there was no debacle timeline and I think I nailed it as much as one could. I reread that section, just for this, and I still feel it holds up. (Yes, I will be fixing the dead link in there eventually.) This year, I just didn’t want to wade into those waters again, nor did I feel there was any benefit to it. What was there left to say? It’s a hate movement that runs like a perpetual motion machine. We know what it does and how it works. The section in 2014 holds up as everything that needs to be said and anything else would just be a “yep this still exists.” Hence why I dispensed with any piece talking about that Law & Order episode. The one exception I made was Innuendo Studios “Why are you so angry?” series. A, because it was huge and discussed a lot, and B, because it was about more than just the hashtag, but the psychological drive behind it.

I also made an executive decision with the Adam Sandler movie Pixels. I even got reader suggestions on this one. Though, frankly, I didn’t remember this film came out until I was doing my TWIVGB read-throughs. Film twitter doesn’t remember it exists. Why should we dredge it up?

Then comes the other half of the consideration pool: the reader suggestions. I am so overhauling how we do these. Because two of you are apparently incapable of following instruction or reading them. This is going to be shorter than it could be because I’m trying to not to blow up again.

In the instructions, every year, I write:

“Also, please keep emails brief. No long lists of 50 links with an essay praising each one.” No one did this exactly, though quite few of you skirted this, but one person did indeed write a 5 paragraph essay explaining the history and worth of a single link. This is a common sense instruction meant to be extrapolated out, not a single do not do.

In addition, I wrote, “please leave the links as URLs, no getting fancy by making them hypertext. All that does is make more work for me. I need to be able to identify the links at a glance.” The disregarding of this one pisses me off the most.

Now there are other instructions I care less about, couldn’t really care about much at all, like not using the specified email subject line. I really don’t care about because it has no effect on the process. If it mentions TYIVGB or some variation of that, it gets forwarded to me. Nor do I care about the people who submitted things through twitter despite the big “EMAIL ONLY” right there after notice that twitter suggestions will be ignored because I don’t have to deal with them at all. They are ignored. And as for the 5 paragraph essay for one link, while head scratching, is also easily skippable. Not so much though if it’s 1 paragraph each for 5 links included like one or two others decided to do. But it’s the formatting the URLs as hypertext that gets to me, because it’s taking the time going through extra effort, for the sole purpose of pissing me off. It adds nothing and only makes my job that much harder.

Here’s a secret. I don’t really read your emails. I look for the URLs and then copy them into a new word document. Once I have them all, I then close the email and never look at it again. It doesn’t matter how many links you put in there, highlight all, copy and paste, done. It’s why having one link at the end of a single essay is not a big deal and why it’s annoying to have the link list broken up with paragraphs in between.

However, when they’re in hypertext, it requires so many more steps. I have to open each link, copy the URL, paste it into the word document, then actually connect the text URL to URL function to become a link because word is finicky like that, then close the tab. Rinse and repeat for each link. You are creating more work for me and slowing down my flow. It doesn’t sound like much to do for a link, until you realize I have to do this for each one for a lot of suggestions and more importantly what days I’m going through them (24th, 25th). Why go through the extra effort of just putting me on edge like that for something you ostensibly want me to like?

This happened last year too. I was annoyed, but I didn’t get angry then because I didn’t include instructions not to do that. It had never happened before so I didn’t think of it, nor bothered including instructions in the reader suggestions post against it. I did this year, prefaced with “(and I can’t believe I have to specify this)”.

I’m going to have to change what text can be included along with the links. I don’t read it. In previous years I got so few emails and link recommendations that it wasn’t a problem, though after what happened next year I did include the above common sense restriction on how much explanation should be included. It worked. Then. Realistically, I should just do away with it. It serves no purpose for anybody. Anything more than a title and author is completely unnecessary. And really, I only say that because they’re useful with websites that automatically format their URLs ambiguously like NYMGamer and Sufficiently Human.

I’ll have to figure out formatting to the wording next year, but my wish is to add something to the effect of, “failure to follow these specific instructions will result in your email being deleted and your suggestions not being considered.” I don’t care about what an email is called or if you include salutations or sign the email. It’s anything that affects the meat of the process that matters to me. I work from a literal list of links. One blue string of letters and punctuation, double enter, another blue string of letters and punctuation, etc etc. That is the total of my word document. I am dealing with a lot of information. I need to be able to identify these links at a glance and in mass. It’s not about the one link, it’s about the hundreds of links I’m sifting and resifting through.

Eventually, I will have a list that is just too long. About 20 or so links above my aim. Every year I try to get the feature back into double digits, but that’s a pipe dream at this point. With the original TYIVGB back in 2010, I wanted to get it to around 20, the amount we had in a usual TWIVGB feature at the time. It ended up somewhere in the 50s or so. Next year it was in the 90s or thereabouts and I don’t think we’ve has a double digit TYIVGB since.

At this point, it’s time to face the music and get on Skype with Editor-in-chief Kris Ligman to knock it down. I wasn’t exactly fried this time, though Kris did question my awakeness. In reality, I’m just better at responding to what someone says or a question than started the conversation on my own. We also only do this once a year and don’t quite remember how we did it last time, so there’s a bit frustration with one another until we get back into the groove. Which amounts to Kris asking me why this link, I explain, some need little as Kris then remembers what it was and moves it under the appropriate category, other times I have to give my spiel (again easier for me to give in response to the question, even if only implied, “why this one” then to just speak out) and others I realize that while I liked reading it I haven’t a defense of it and delete it myself.

Going in I knew we were adding a new category for Critical Distance contributors. It was during the organization we added another one. Originally it was just Culture, Design, Critical Video Game and Publications. Then we hit one, I think it was the Pizza Party piece, that Kris asked why is this going under culture and then said we need one for Industry. I paused about half a second and said “yep.” Later during the writing, I realized Design was the old term I used when I divided up the pieces about specific craft moments and pieces about abstract ideas. So I changed it to the now used Theory headline.

Some fun stories:

-This is the first year a link on my auto-include shortlist was deleted. Happened before I could even open my mouth to evangelize it. Only link I really wanted in that I got an absolute no on. 1 over the course of 6 years, that’s quite a track record.

-Another of my auto-includes was up and I defended it, but Kris was really iffy on it because of so many others like it over the years. It was Laura Dale’s Life is Strange suicide piece. I convinced Kris to keep it in. It was only afterwards when I doing the actual write up and needed to check it to summarize it correctly that I saw and remembered the second half of the essay discussing the responsibilities of developers warning their audience about potentially disturbing content verses the affect on craft such a warning might have. You know actual the meat of the piece. Good thing I won the day on that one without remembering the important half of the piece.

-I found that the same piece, the Prison Architect review, had been included twice. It was originally a Kill Screen review and had been reprinted on The Atlantic. I thought it sounded familiar while reading it, but I hadn’t read anything else from The Atlantic. Got a chuckle out of that.

-Originally I wanted to go with the King Kong review for Zolani’s piece, but then Kris reminded me: Sonic Studies.

-I was informed halfway through that Lana Polanski had moved on from Critical Distance. I sighed with relief because that meant I didn’t have to decide which of her pieces to keep nor how to figure out how to fit in Cameron and Heather’s responses to her flow essay if that’s the one we kept.

-Originally Tauriq Moosa’s Witcher 3 piece on race was under the Critical Video Game category, along with the associated responses, but then Kris pointed out the video games in it were more about the reaction to race and its soft exclusion in this sphere than the actual games. While some of the responses to Tauriq’s piece were about The Witcher 3 specifically, they only made sense for the flow of the feature to be collected with it.

-The video game title subheaders in the Critical Video Game category were an addition in the final editing. A good addition for quick scanning. Again, something that should have been done years ago.

The whole organization process took about two hours. Probably the shortest step in this entire process. It was only yesterday I realized we forgot to actually order them like last year. Though it was late at night when we did it so I doubt I would have pressed the issue or even mentioned it had I remembered. Just meant the next day I spent time figuring out the actual order to get a nice topic flow going and at least a semblance of a transition between the various categories. Also, I had to decide the order of the categories themselves. Prior to 2014, I had a set order I used every year, but then the hashtag happened and it needed its own thing and it had to be first and that led into larger cultural issues and the gates opened to let the flow of the year dictate what went where.

This year, Gita Jackson’s “We are not colonists” had to be first. It was the headliner to that theme I discovered in my original reading of the TWIVGBs. Then I put all the Culture links in order and figured out how the rest of the outline would flow from there. It took a total of 9 hours to write the whole thing. Apparently, it took Kris 7 hours to edit. I blame that on my effort to not fall into a pattern. [Name] at [website] [wrote about/considered/ said/etc] [title of piece/topic at hand]. I also wanted to be a bit more detailed than usual. Use multiple sentences and the like. Part of that was the parting words that it was up to me to explain why each piece made it in. Looking at the final copy, yeah no. I am so glad I have an editor.

Also, from the writing phase to the final editing phase, one link was removed and 4 were added in. Two of which were links I argued for but were deleted. Part of the outlining process is seeing everything put together and realizing you have a hole. I did the second half of the outlining process on my own and I though about just saying ‘hell with it’ and putting one of them back in, but I didn’t want to go behind Kris’ back. The other two were things I hadn’t considered. One because I already linked Cara Ellison’s Embed with… series last year and the other because I didn’t think a notice on a movie about Zoe Quinn was end of year worthy. That and the no hashtag thing.

Then there were my remarks explaining what I saw as the theme of the year. I actually wrote these first. I had told Kris I wanted to pull a “Zolani” and give a big intro setting up the whole feature by putting the reader in the right frame of mind in which to view my curatorial choices. Couldn’t make it work no matter how many rewrites I did, so I skipped it and wrote the rest and came back to it later. At which point I felt that no, Gita’s piece was enough of a framer and that my thoughts should be the conclusion, like they always are. Also, since I didn’t want to use examples like a proper essay would, it didn’t have the bite or structure to be an intro. I instead did what I did last year, create an elaborate metaphor to illustrate what I see as the theme. I always was better off using metaphors to explain the untouchable.

And finally, I pulled off a four year long inside joke that as far as I can tell nobody has noticed. I smile at this.

Four years ago, same year we started officially sectioning off Blogger of the Year, I needed a way to separate the section between the last actual line of the feature and my closing remarks. I came up with an idea to write out the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne. However, instead of just writing them all there, I would write one line a year as the header to the closing category. I only ever planned to do the first verse, because 4 years is a long time to know if I’m going to keep doing this and also it’s kind of a repetitive song. Still there it is. No one said no. No one edited it out. I got to keep my little in joke.

I wasn’t kidding about that yelling into the void stuff about never doing this again. I hate this fucking project while doing it. I hate the hard deadline. I hate the huge amount of solo work. I hate that I can’t explain this to anyone because outside our little community because it makes no sense and has no value. I hate because of that my time forever seems free to whomever. And I hate every little roadblock that, again, I can’t explain or commiserate with anyone and must seethe in silence. Which only makes the seething worse.

There is a reason I call the week after TYIVGB is done my “fuck off week.” You ask me to do something, I tell you to “fuck off.” I didn’t get my “fuck of week” this year. Immediately afterwards I had to edit the podcast. So then you’d think my “fuck off week” starts after that. No, because of how the days of the week fell, it’s more like a “fuck off three days.” Which I’m learning is not enough time to acclimate myself to regular life once again.

I really did consider never doing this again. Just dropping it. More than once this year I thought of just saying fuck the whole lot of it and leaving all of games criticism. If this was my swan song, then finishing that little joke of mine would have been very appropriate. An apt away message to commemorate my non-existent mark on the community. Then I actually finished it and I didn’t care about it anymore. I haven’t actually read TYIVGB 2015. I quickly scanned it and noticed the changes I’ve mentioned throughout this post-mortem, but I don’t know what it says. I don’t know if my closing metaphor is even in there. But it’s done and like an idiot I’ll be back next year to subjugate myself to this project all over again.

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