Why write about games?

Some of my own misgivings about whether to write about games and related phenomena or not are reflected in the critique of game criticism at Lost Garden.

I have done some effort to try to raise discourse about games in such publications as Bashers, nrc.next and VN with mixed results and many frustrations.

I have a (multi-media focused) computer science degree, I develop games at Hubbub, I have played games on and off for the past 20 years, I am a self-taught designer practicing interaction design and product management and I dabble in media philosophy/theory. In short I think I may be somewhat qualified to write about the subject.

This is also what Dan says:

We need writers who are more deeply educated in the art, craft and science of games.

I also think I have something to say about the relationship between reality and games, how games should draw more from reality (not the other way around), about the potential of games to become a more potent expressive medium than anything we have ever seen before and about society’s role to welcome and channel this development correctly.

Quoting Dan again:

Goal: Advance the art and science of games. Simply looking at what exists is not enough. Instead, we leverage what exists in order to to ask what is next and create the conceptual language and tools that get us there.


My biggest dilemma in pursuing writing is that my time is limited and I may want to spend most of that time making games not writing about them. There is a large class of people (writers, journalists, academics) whose work actually is just writing but most of them have no experience with the craft which Dan identifies as a weakness. Whether it is because that lack of experience or because of the lowest common denominator approach dominant in Dutch publishing, most writing on games in the Netherlands makes me cringe.

My second dilemma is that any writing for a major periodical needs to dumb the content down to a level that it kills the possibility for any meaningful discourse. Some publications welcome pieces full of expletives to appeal to a younger audience, others reduce any thought to a sound byte to cater to the shortest of attention spans.

Another dilemma is that writing properly such that I myself would like to read it and doing the necessary contextual research for a piece takes an inordinate amount of time. Time (days upon days really) I could spend developing a game that has more substance, relevance and value than a piece of writing that will be in the litter the next day.

And finally there is the dilemma what kind of medium has the largest impact, whether to write in Dutch or English, to aim for print or online or forego writing for other ways of making a point such as debates and presentations.

Way forward

I talked about this with friends in media and publishing on and off to see whether writing has benefits that make it worth the effort. Everybody agrees that writing in and of itself is definitely not worth it, but reaching a wider audience can have benefits that make it worthwhile.

I am going to keep at it because that is the responsibility of an engaged developer: making sure that any work you produce falls upon fertile soil and that your future work is appreciated not only on its merits but also on its and your contributions to the wider discourse.

Now remains the task of seeing what it is I should write about first and where it will have the largest punch. Your suggestions welcome.

2 thoughts on “Why write about games?”

  1. A very good essay. A few thoughts:

    – You should write. The world needs it and you need it.
    – Time is always an issue. I certainly struggle with balancing the urge to make games vs the urge to write. What I try to do is make time if an idea comes to me. My drafts folder is filled with essays that are an hour here or an hour there worth of writing. But also I don’t beat myself up if I don’t write. The pressure doesn’t seem to help much. 🙂
    – Writing for others can be very demotivating at first. Audiences come slowly, comments are negative more often than not, and your earliest writing is often the least polished. Having an internal motivation that drives you forward helps get past all this. I write the majority of my essays primarily for myself. Writing is a form of critical thinking that helps me put my thoughts on a topic in order. I do pick a more accessible style of writing that is ‘spreadable’ if other are interesting in what I write, but if I end up learning something in the process of putting together an essay, it is a success.

    All the best,

  2. Thanks Dan. I think you are right on all points and I shall keep writing. First and foremost for myself, but without losing sight of the bigger picture.

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