God’s Work

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Today over tea, Laura picked from my head with uncanny intuition the question most bothering me this week: “why do you write about games?” She didn’t need to clarify the peculiar thing about my writing about games, specifically that I only write about games. I don’t write about books or movies or cats even though I also enjoy these things, even though I am probably fully capable to that end. If cornered I call myself a media critic—sheepishly, because people expect it’s a euphemism—but the truth is, I don’t write broadly enough to encompass the generality implied. I write about one specific type of media.

I don’t know why, I said half-honestly. I could write about films, but I don’t want to. I like to talk about films the way I write about games, but that’s as far as it goes. I hope someday to actually sit down and write that article on Return to Oz that’s been in my head since 1986. I don’t exactly know why I relegate my writing to just games other than I enjoy writing about games.

The best proper answer I can come up with is that when I was very, very young, my Dad confided in me the secret cause of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s huge arms was from having played so many videogames (which he enthusiastically demonstrated with thumb movements). This might also account for my silly interest in Schwarzenegger movies, disproportionate to their quality. I was impressionable, so it was impressed on me that games were wow amazing.[1]

Except this is no answer at all, and it doesn’t help to explain the mystery of why I don’t also write about other things. I think the simple fact of it is the tautology: I write about games because I like writing about games. I know as well that one day this may change, and I anticipate that time with a foggy, detached melancholy. At the same time, I don’t mourn the thought of quitting, just the expected loss of an enjoyable task.

Rather, I somewhat relish it. One day I will stop writing, either because I’ve lost interest or I’ve actually just gone and died. And there’s a part of me, a nugget of spite that hovers over this thought and says, “Good. Let them be without you.” Let them pick up the pieces and see how it fits together and make something out of what I’ve left behind. Or let them ignore my body of writing completely, as it pleases them, and let them make their own tracks in the mud. Both are equally gratifying to me, and sure I’ll be gone, either to be a beekeeper in the country, or to be a ghost, or to be nothing. You may do as you please and it won’t bother me.

Sometimes when all of existence and the universe seems so very big I don’t feel this way, but usually I enjoy the thought of being fleeting. I don’t want my work to be conscribed to the annuls of history in any context other than to signify it as fluid and probing as it was. I don’t want it to be etched into canon, to be archived as a part of videogame criticism history, which makes me think of mothballs and taxidermied wildlife. Personally, I don’t care about videogame criticism history, nor do I share the sense of jeopardy that we now might be repeating ideas first espoused by forgotten theorists in 2001. In times of guilt I made efforts in the past to research writing about games prior to 2007, investigating critics whose names are currently mentioned like old sacred ghosts (“my old friend KG”) as if they should mean anything to me. But routinely, my heart is not in it. This is not what I want to be doing with my time, with my writing. ‘Building on ancestral homes.’ And then we have theorists passing observations on the field through the metaphor of island nations. And the pressure from our esteemed, tenured, antagonistic peers who pick at our blogposts like crows, that we must be fortifying, we must be mountains, when I’d rather be sky.

I don’t know if this stance is controversial or not because I’ve only heard the consensus that archival is vital, be it archival of game crit or archival of games themselves. I’m told non-stop it’s part of my history, part of my culture. Which, ok, maybe it is. But a lot of things are part of my history, a lot of things which affected me and lead me to grow up a certain way and are conceivably as vital as components in the formation of my life. Many of these things are also fleeting.

Yet, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone dedicate a flame to the previous tomato and basil recipe used by Avenmore Soup, now lost to time, in the same way folks are convinced PT being removed from the store is a cultural crisis. And I think this is because of a pervading sense of videogames as a medium as this magnificent, wonderful, unique facet of humanity, which we need to constantly reaffirm. Something born from horrible marketing spiel—the power is yours!—outwardly rejected as capitalistic poison and yet internalised and returned with all sincerity. The lies we tell ourselves:

No other medium can make you feel such joy or guilt.

No other medium demands such a degree of interaction.

No other medium can put you in the shoes of the characters and asking how you feel.

No other medium is as complete a pastiche of other media.

No other medium is so unique. So, so unique.

To write about videogames we must love videogames with all our heart, we must love them and those among us who love them the most are most deserving of accolade and least deserving of reproach. We must prize games above all other things and flatter them with the dignity and nobility we seek from others as validation, and pat ourselves on the back that we critics are doing God’s work.

And I don’t feel it. For one thing, I don’t love videogames the same way I love, for example, food. Certainly food is more vital to my ongoing existence. Plus I find more overall satisfaction from all the aggregated food I’ve eaten than the games I’ve played. Which is not to disparage games (heaven forbid)—I just really enjoy food. I love cooking and I love eating. I hardly keened when Avenmore switched up recipes, but you know, I took pleasure in those soupy lunches while I had them.

I might go so far as to say games are less important to me than many other things. In a way I’m stunned this needs to be said and I worry ever so slightly that I’ll be branded a heretic by the knights templar that are game critics. Games are less important. They are cultural artefacts and snapshots of the world and of people’s lives, but they are games, curiosities, not lifeblood. The fanaticism towards them is astounding given we’re talking about something that is basically an updated version of 4,000 year old dice games. Sometimes I don’t love games. Sometimes I really don’t care.

So by the preceding logic, does that mean I should pivot to become a food critic instead of a game critic, even though a love of games is less seminal to the job than the pleasure of the job itself?

Well. Today, we went down to the GPO on O’Connell Street to visit the postal museum, as tomorrow its doors will shut forever. Inside they have glass cases on the old postal masters and drawer displays of stamps from across the decades. Laura is a philatelist—I shared in her delight in counting out which stamps sit in her collection and which as of yet do not. The museum had some videos playing recounting the old postal history of Ireland and how it intersected with British rule and the subsequent independence. It pleases me that this museum exists, that there were people interested enough in preserving a sliver of old Irish life that fascinates them, even if I don’t exactly share that fascination. And I am a little sad that it should close and be shifted to a digital archive. But you know, it’s just a sliver, and life goes on.

I think now of when we walked through the lanes of the Computer Game Museum in Berlin, nerding out at the tableau of ancient home consoles (“I had that one, it was my first!”) and flowing between playable displays of Nim and DDR and Final Fantasy X. Undoubtedly there are games that have disappeared between the gaps, and I’m content with not knowing their names or exactly how one evolved from the other. I know so few names that have built this world, but short of growing omniscient this will always be. It must be. We live for such a short while and all we can see is mist.

[1] My Mam had me convinced for years that the button on the car’s handbreak made all the wheels and engine fall apart. Now, aged 28, I take the bus.

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