Regretful words

Man, I owe you guys an apology. I’ve been violating our tacit agreement, the quiet pact we’ve had for years. You come to this site, maybe browse around, use the forums, possibly send me a little cash to help keep the servers running, and in return I write a steady stream of interesting words for you. I’m sorry to say that stream has been more like a trickle, and the trickle hasn’t been very interesting. I am a terrible person and should be publicly admonished.

So let’s get on that. As I write this, I am standing in front of a mirror, wagging a finger at myself in an accusatory fashion. You’ll understand if I don’t make this admonition public, of course; at the moment I am wearing only a T-shirt and underwear, and I’m pretty sure no one wants to see that. But take my word for it, I’m duly chastised.

I have to admit it has grown more difficult to find time for the upkeep of this site, between work, and the quarterly print publication, and my fiancée, and spending a couple hours every day exercising so that I don’t get fat and ugly again, and my irritating need for several hours of sleep per night. But more to the point, I’ve been suffering a crisis of confidence lately as I wonder if I made a terrible mistake in choosing to become a writer.

Writing is looking more and more likely to become the next obsolete career selection, a once-proud vocation made redundant by the fact that no one gives a crap about quality work anymore… at least not on the Internet, anyway. I made this lamentation on last Friday’s podcast, but a few years ago the quality of writing in magazines was being pruned and demolished in favor of compact, bite-sized fluff, whereas the Internet was a boundless horizon full of potential in which every possibility was open. Somehow, the poles have been reversed; now those few magazines that have survived into 2010 are producing more and better content, while the Internet has been reduced to a noisome den of noise and din. Writing online has been replaced by traffic-baiting, by search engine optimization and trolling for links from Digg/Twitter/Facebook/some other damn thing. The problem, of course, is that a few years ago no one knew what worked online, so it was anything-goes until someone found the magic formula. Now we do know what works, and everything else is moot; unfortunately, “everything else” includes the sorts of work I’m actually good at.

I’m certainly not the only writer feeling this way. It’s a universal shift; think about the sites you frequented five years ago, your online reading habits. Now, think about your choice of venues today and how you approach the web. Think about site layouts then versus now, how article structures have changed, how the art of long-form prose has all but vanished from any site with an even vaguely commercial charter. I’m not just talking about game sites; I’m speaking of all sites, everywhere. If people make a living from a website, it is SEO-obsessed. You’ll see several dozen headlines at various game blogs and news sites that, say, decry how some dude at BioWare who hasn’t played Final Fantasy XIII doesn’t think Final Fantasy XIII is a real RPG, but good luck finding a thoughtful editorial at those same sites that explores the comparative approaches of BioWare and Square Enix — and if you do, you can be sure it’ll have far fewer hits/diggs/thumbs than the five-sentence piece quoting some guy you’ve never heard of out of context and painting his opinion as his employer’s public company-wide stance on some non-issue that was artificially inflated and invented for the sake of provoking hits.

Anyway, all of this makes me fear for my future, because I’m pretty OK at writing, but I just can’t get my head around the art of traffic-baiting. I’m not really future-proof! I am old, and I am rapidly growing obsolete. It’s pretty depressing to think about.

That just makes me feel worse about neglecting GameSpite, of course. I’ll never be able to make a living off the work I do here, but at least it’s something I can approach any way I want. Even if that does mean it will grow less and less viable as the Internet causes us how to forget to read fully developed thoughts and, eventually, complete sentences. At least we can all fade into irrelevance on our own terms: That is, with subjects, verbs, and punctuation.

Daily updates resume tomorrow. Let’s make this slow ride into the sunset a memorable one.

45 thoughts on “Regretful words

  1. There will always be people on the internet who want to read the type of quality writing that Gamespite offers.

    Quality will always trump quantity, at least in my heart. Keep on keeping on.

  2. That pretty much describes why I’ve stopped going to most game news sites for anything but updates on what’s coming out, and when. I don’t want to know their opinions anymore because their opinions are so truncated that they’re meaningless. They seem to want to shorten it down to the arbitrary number score, and that’s the only part I don’t care about.

  3. There are always people everywhere who buck some macro trend or another. That’s not the issue. The issue is, who will pay your rent while you’re drilling down to cater to that niche? These days, the answer is “practically nobody,” and I don’t foresee that downward trend reversing.

  4. And I will say that while 1UP is definitely feeling pressure to go with this dire flow, we’re working to find alternatives. That is pretty much the only reason I haven’t flushed my skull down a commode at this point.

  5. As someone who works at a newspaper and also is struggling to find his place in this changing industry, I will always cheer you and others on to keep fighting the good fight!

  6. Yeah, it’s a bit strange that Nintendo Power provides better features than most websites now.

    Anyways, due to the reasons you’ve outlined, I really enjoy the work you and many others do on the 1up blogs.

  7. If you don’t already do this, creating a publishing schedule is a good way to make sure you have a consistent content stream going, and to just keep your self writing and keeping the momentum going. Outline what you want to write about each day/every other day/whatever 4-5 posts out in advance, so if you have time to write you know what you want to work on. You can still write impromptu posts as they come up, but you can help avoid getting swamped in too many topics or running out of ideas. Knowing what you want to write about in advance is just one lowered barrier to getting a post up!

  8. Thankfully, long-form writing on the Internet being a dead art means that pretty much no one is doing what you are doing, and thus you are filling a unique niche rather than having to compete with others’ brainshare in the same field!

    Of course, getting any brainshare at all is a problem. I keep a dumb optimism that people are going to find words interesting again some wonderful day.

  9. ZerodotJander, I know you meant well with those suggestions, but I’m trying not to suffocate all the fun from this little side project. Thanks anyway.

    I also want to avoid giving the impression that I’m saying I’m the only person writing interesting things about videogames, because that’s not the case at all. I’m just saying that interesting writing is being pushed to the corners of sites like this by trends and money-chasers.

  10. Actually, Parish, I think you ARE the only one writing interesting things about videogames. I’ve searched and searched and haven’t found anything that really comes close to this stuff. Mainstream or otherwise. And well, I hate to say it, but 1UP included.

    I used to enjoy Edge, but my tolerance for pretension has slowly waned since then.

  11. You’re not looking in the right places, then. I’d say start with Gamasutra and work your way along from there.

  12. Pretty much spot-on, unfortunately. It’s like the now-normal 24-hour constant news on television. News programs used to present quality pieces with multiple interviews giving all sides of the topic at hand. Now, most news stories (both on television and online) consist of a 30 second sound bite centered around an inflammatory comment designed to get the most views in the shortest amount of time.

    A gaming site that I frequent used to have well-written editorial pieces every day. I really enjoyed reading those articles. Those still come every so often, but they are rare. Now what used to be a well crafted article is usually just a link to a Street Fighter cartoon on YouTube or some other nonsense like that. I still frequent the website for the latest news on upcoming releases and so forth, but their stream is also constantly flooded with the ridiculous inflammatory comments designed for site hits.

    I’m glad to see that the first issue of the new EGM had some well written thoughtful pieces included. I just hope there are enough people that still want that sort of content to keep the magazine going.

    I’m also glad that I can come to GameSpite and read your writing and purchase your books. It may be a dying mainstream art-form sadly, but there will always be people who are interested. I understand about the need to keep food on the table, though. I just hope that you can continue your GameSpite venture long-term in addition to your regular work.

  13. I know exactly what you mean by the rest of the internet, not just gaming, being the subject of truncated, horrible writing and SEO optimization. I am a graphic designer. I enjoy reading about graphic design just as much as I enjoy reading about video games. Unfortunately, most of those sites are dedicated to articles focusing on: top *insert number here*, design “trends”, collections of tweets or favorite artwork they found on deviantart, and…”tuts.” This is the community that pretty much invented this form of writing for the web. Most graphic designers have blogs. The only reason I don’t since I just haven’t had any time to work on my website. Most of their writing is fluff without any distinct voice or attempt at thought provoking editorial. Yet they know how to make it popular…

    I agree with the other posts though. Eventually quality will win out. I’d much rather read Hardcore Gaming 101, Gamespite, and many other sites that really show a love for games reflected in their content.

    Are you able to queue up your posts so that they publish on certain days? That would certainly help when updating since you can have content lined up whenever you feel without restricting yourself to a schedule. Take some time to load it up on your free time during the week and not have to worry about it.

  14. I’ll concede that, randomkid – I enjoy the 1UP blogs. But the bulk of the site – the formulaic reviews, the ‘news’ (which is all ripped right from sites like Kotaku), etc. – really doesn’t do anything to distinguish itself from the competition. Not to mention Sharkey’s endless ‘humor’ lists.

    Partially it’s also my own dying interest in games. I find myself playing more and more quirky handheld games, or retro games, and just not giving a damn about the next big console release. The last big console game I played was Dragon Age, and it was just excruciating.

    Not a lot of sites cover retro games like this one does without resorting to nostalgic “Sephiroth is awesome!” drivel.

  15. Re: traffic-baiting

    All you really need to do is post more Philip Armstrong comics and wait for them to get linked on GoNintendo. Follow it up with a well-timed post related to a well-loved SNES game. Fanboys come for the funny Mega Man drawings but stay for the insightful commentary.

  16. I wouldn’t even visit 1up if you weren’t still there. I never twitter or facebook or any of that ridiculous crap, but I still come and read.

    The internet has become too ephemeral. There should be an aggregate site for good writin’. Well, there’s critical distance but thats too narrow a’scope.

    One thing I love is how any time someone writes a halfway interesting review, there’s always some jackass in the comment section saying how its “non-informative,” like there’s not 100 other ways they can easily satisfy their binary needs. It seems as if mass gamers have been fed a diet of rubbish for so long that they’ve come to crave it, and when presented with something more palatable, they spit it out like it’s disgusting.

    please excuse me for ranting on a blog I’ve never even posted on before… think i’ll bow out gracefully now

  17. To quote Firefly:
    K: What’s so damn important about bein’proper? Don’t mean nothin’ out here in the black.
    S: It means more out here.
    Hang in there Parish, don’t sacrifice your principles.

  18. Wow, for some reason this makes me really depressed. Maybe because becoming a writer is something of a childhood dream of mine. Oh well, I’m a no talent hack anyways.

  19. I think the search engine baiting trend is ultimately going to be short-lived, once people realize that in the long term, you want to draw in a regular crowd more than maximizing the hit count on a given fluff piece. I mean, yeah, you can grab 20,000 people real easy with “Gaming’s 5 Best Boob Jiggle Animations!” but then what? People look, maybe chuckle, maybe pass the link on, but then they’re leaving. They aren’t going to see anything else on that site that’s going to interest them, just whatever ads are plastering the page. If you go the cracked route and you have enough of these, OK, they might click through to a couple more before they get bored, but they aren’t sticking around.

    Write something though like, oh, any given article from GSQ4 here and post that? Yeah, it’s only going to draw people in in maybe the hundreds, but they’re going to be more engaged. They’re going to want to see what else has been written there, and poke around. If it’s typical of what you have to offer, they’ll read a few, and hopefully start coming back regularly. If you’re just starting your site up and look at the two side by side, the fluff looks like the better draw, but after a few months, the slow steady build from the real articles gets a consistent, growing readership coming back day after day, probably sticking around on days you post a dud, while each fluff article is just hit or miss in a total vacuum.

    And of course, on the issue of personal blog post guilt- you’ve still got a truckload of content from GSQ 3 and 4 left to upload. You can coast on that for a while without having to actually write an update if you don’t have the time.

  20. Well, I’ll tell you this; if the good ship Substantial Prose is going down, then I’m going down with it; and fighting! With sharp, angry semicolons.

    Also, for those of you looking for good writing, let me reiterate Parish’s point about print. This might be a fleeting thing, but between Gamespite, Killscreen, Gamepro and EGM, there’s a surprising amount of thoughtful, well-written articles out there just waiting to be read. Seriously, Gamepro is a completely different magazine at this point.

  21. Sorry to hear about your frustration Jeremy. Just know that the people that frequent Gamespite obviously have absolute respect for all of the work you’ve done over the years.

    Gamespite might not be your money maker, but it’ll always be your home regardless. Just don’t lose sight of the reason you likely started Gamespite in the first place (which I don’t know, but I imagine it wasn’t to make money).

  22. If fewer companies are willing to pay writers to produce the content I want to read (which is longer-form, thoughtful analyses and in-depth features), then I’m less likely to read anything those companies ARE willing to pay for. I guess I don’t fit the right demographic for that to be an issue?

    I don’t even go directly to gaming sites anymore because of how flavorless and empty gaming news posts and, especially, blog entries tend to be these days. I mostly find features by following writers and editors I respect and admire on Twitter, and following the links they post to their own and others’ work, because I get real tired of the screeching “so-and-so sez FFXII not a real RPG OMG LOL WTF!” chorus. Or whatever the song of the day is. It’s off-putting.

  23. To clarify, I’m not talking about blog posts such as those on 1UP’s The Grind, and so on. I’m talking about Joystiq, Kotaku, Destructoid, etc., which I long ago gave up on even following casually.

  24. Oh boy, I can relate. But it heartens me to see that game magazines are becoming a hardy, determined species–and that people know they can turn to them for high quality writing.

  25. Why is Final Fantasy XIII in bold in the article? Anyway.

    Truth be told, most video game magazines are now doing exactly what you’re saying: lengthy (relative to what the medium used to feed us) articles discussing things other than month old previews. Maybe it’ll work, and maybe not. There will always be people that seek more relevant content than the talking points we get, you just have to be at the top of your game. Amidst the sea of competition, only the truly remarkable stand out. The fact that I’m reading your blog pretty regularly despite my hundreds of options says something!

  26. Your pain is interesting to me because i share it, but almost worse. Because you speak of a steadily growing obsolescence, as you HAVE a job that is fading away, and I, and many like me, sit here with a similar skill set staring out into a market that has nothing to offer. While you waste slowly, i’m effectively dead on arrival.

    and it stings a bit, to see that writing has been reduced to sound bites. But folks like gamepro and neo egm are keeping the long form written word alive, and as long as they do, I have hope that some day there will be room for me, and nadia, and all of us who wish to follow in your footsteps.

  27. Guess I’ll throw my two cents into the scrawl.

    Cent 1: I rarely read longform, thoughtful writing on websites. I don’t find “reading” comfortable via a computer. I do, however, think that websites are awesome for audio and video stuff, which is primarily what I “consume” on gaming websites.

    Cent 2: I always read longform, thoughtful writing in physical form. Between the resurgence of gaming mags and GameSpite books, I am willing to put in the time and effort to digest lengthy, intelligent reviews, features, retrospectives, etc. about any number of gaming topics. When you’re focused on a mag or book, there’s far fewer distractions than there are on a computer, not to mention that I can kick back on the couch and settle in with something physical, but even with my laptop I don’t really enjoy reclining, staring at a screen while scrolling with a mouse, and trying not to get distracted by iTunes and iChat and other sites I have opened in tabs and…

  28. Word. Thanks Parish. I’m down for the long ride. I was always skeptical about this universal “gaming culture” bullshit that companies, websites, and magazines were trying to sell me. Then I found this site, and thought that it might possibly be true. Maybe. Or they could be just referring to people playing FPSs and cursing into their headsets. What do i know?

  29. You might be right about the general irrelevance of quality writing and its value in the commercial space at large, but personally speaking, the quality of your writing is exactly why I’ve been following you here and at 1up for years. Just keep the faith that at least there’s always going to be some place for those few — like you — who generate the higher standard by which all the others can be compared and properly disgraced. Those few of us who can appreciate that, need it.

    Think about it: every medium is populated most densely by that which appeals to the least discerning of audiences. Just like the Wii library is mostly shovelware, and yet there are a few gems at the top. That tenancy for quality material to pushed floating to the surface of a deep cesspool is just an indicator of the proliferation of a medium, not an ominous portent of its eventual decline into universally homogeneous goo. Think of it as an eco-system. It takes substantial populations of lower lifeforms to support much smaller populations of higher lifeforms.

    Or, as the multi-colored, patch-work-faced, holographic circus weirdo on Star Trek the Next Generation once said it best: “the higher, the fewer.”

    Don’t be so pessimistic. I’d rather have that scarce trickle of your usual output than a whole monsoon of whatever else, especially when its so dreary. Quality over quantity, you know?

    And don’t sell yourself short. 1up is better now than its ever been; easily my favorite general gaming site — and you may not realize it, but from where I’m, sitting, it pretty much looks like you’re single-handedly responsible for guiding the site and its staff to their current level of excellence. For that, I’m grateful.

  30. Let me clarify that last statement. I forgot that sarcasm doesn’t travel well on high speed connections. I know that the marketers are referring to what i think of as the stereotypical xbox live player. But as far as a real subgroup or whatever a culture refers to ( I forgot all the stuff I learned in anthropology 101) maybe there is one for gamers.

  31. You are focusing too hard on “any site with an even vaguely commercial charter.” NPR, PBS, and the BBC have websites too, not to mention their other, traditional news correspondence and arts-reviewing media venues.

  32. I actually feel that, browsing through the Web over the years, I’ve found some sites with high quality writing, this one being right up at the top. They are hard to find, but if you dig deep enough, they are there. My change in tastes of websites has matured and I enjoy reading well-written, thoughtful, in-depth articles. All I used to read on the Web about video games was from a certain large website that I no longer respect or care about (hint: it rhymes with lamespot).

  33. Please Jeremy, keep fighting the good fight for the English Language on the Internet. You are not alone, you are not forgotten.

  34. The problem with well written features that go up on 1UP is that they get bumped off of the main page as soon as they’re posted by news or videos as you’ve pointed out. Before the main page was redesigned, I think there was more space devoted to features and even the newly made blogs. Now there is constant noise on news and videos and popular stuff. There are the blue menu bars at the top of the page, but I’ve never really paid attention to them, and the content still seems hidden away.

    Unless I missed something, I feel like if there were some way to present the last 2-4 weeks worth of content in one place like a magazine, it’d be easier to read. Like, here’s 1UP’s April 2010 issue of stuff you may have missed.

    I like reading the features and blogs on 1UP and by that extension your interesting blog posts here at Gamespite, and the nonconforming format of the articles here from contributers (which I’m slowly getting through in portable book form).

  35. Sorry if the last post was blank.
    I was just writing to say go easy on yourself Parish. You have a job, and you’re building all these books, and moderating Talking Time too, so I don’t mind if there is a drop in blog updates and articles.

  36. Jeremy, I would just like to say as someone who has read pretty much everything you have put online since you previewed Chrono Cross, that I greatly appreciate everything you have done to this point. I never felt like one could enjoy video games intelligently until I started reading your treatments. It is a rare pleasure to read someone who enjoys the classics but is not close minded to emerging classics. I hope to keep reading you regularly for sometime, thanks for everything so far. I know how it feels to reach this stage in your life and realize the dream you worked for may be out of reach. But, there are always other opportunities, and I look forward to your future prospects.

  37. I think/hope that as with most things of this type there will be an eb and flow to this short form writing thing. In game reviews I’m afraid it’s here to stay because people consider almost anything a spoiler these days and it just seems like avoiding that and getting to the score is their main objective. I’ll admit I look at the score first, but only as sort of a guideline for what to expect. If I see a C+, then I look to see what they disliked. If it’s not something that bothers me then I mentally raise that score for my own tastes.
    In the end I think writing is like music or art or any other creative pursuit. The best will probably be passed over for the most flashy, but the greats will never die.
    I hope to see more of your writing in the future as you are my single favorite writer in the gaming space. For better or worse you inspired my own writing and video show that I have been making for almost 3 years now. :)

  38. Jeremy, you’re the best video game reviewer around. That’s all that matters.

  39. Gamespite is pretty much one of the few gaming-related website I care to check every morning : it’s just how much I love your work.
    Some people still care about quality work, out there. And *nobody* is future-proof, anyway. But never forget you are more talented than most.

  40. Also, I really wish I had used the preview button or proofread my comments. But I think you got what I was trying to say. Cripes.

  41. Please, please please don’t get discouraged. Your approach to games writing is among the most informative, original, and most importantly, relatable, methods on the internet. I’ve gotten many hours of enjoyment from reading your work, and I would duly appreciate it if you kept at it.

    Seriously. I’m a huge fan.



  42. I may be a little bit late to the party here, but I just wanted to throw in my thoughts.

    I’ve been following your writings for well over a decade now. I can’t remember exactly where and how I found your stuff online (Thumbnail Theater? Xenogears trash talking?) but you’re one of the only writers in the gaming world that I both respect and admire. Keep it up, your stuff is always worth reading. Which is a lot more than I can say for a lot of the internet.

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