How to Write About Video Games

I’m looking for something a little deeper than news or reviews

Whenever I try to write a blog post, I always have to answer one central question: What can I say about this topic that hasn’t already been said? If its related to sports, I run up against the problem that websites like ESPN or The Ringer can offer more in-depth and inviting analysis than I can. If it’s music or history, in the same way, there are plenty of other sites that easily outpace what my own output both in terms of quality and quantity.

This leads me to the subject of this post, which is my attempt to pinpoint the best ways to write about video games. I’ve written numerous game-related posts on this publication, but my success has been tepid. I’ve had one or two articles do well — by my own admittedly-meager standards — but on the whole most of these ideas don’t gain much traction. If I know that I’ve been going about the process of writing about games the wrong way, then, how do I fix this? What is the right way for someone like myself to write about games?

First, I’ll eliminate all the ways that I can’t write about video games. One easy method to avoid is traditional reviews or news. I’m just one person, and I can’t compete with the budgets or staff lineups of websites like IGN, Polygon, or Kotaku (all of which are places I visit daily). Frankly, any review from these places is better than anything I can write, and I don’t buy enough games to have anything close to comprehensive coverage. The same is true for news: I only have time to write once or twice a week, and this is inadequate for trying to stay on top of anything.

My recent attempts at writing about games have showed me a few other ways to not write about them, too. One such way is random forays into games that I like. I’ve tried this a few times, and these posts have seen even less traction that I normally get. And in all honesty, this is fair. Why would anyone bother to read my thoughts on games that came out years ago when far better and up-to-date coverage is right around the corner?

I have had one extremely successful post about games, though. This spring, I wrote a post titled Why the Oregon Trail is One of the Most Realistic Video Games Ever, which caught enough attention to significantly boost my statistics. This post emerged out of an example I used in one of my history classes, and I think the point behind it is worth telling. There is a limited quantity of games that can be merged with historical analysis, but this type of thinking is what I want to capture in my writing (even if I’ve only done it once).

This isolated blip of success is part of what compels me to keep writing about games. I enjoy the creative medium they exist in, and I think there are nearly unlimited applications for real life from video games. I’m also drawn by the promise of games, which leads me to a recent article from Polygon. Recently, in a piece about video games in general, Chris Plante wrote:

I love video games, but what I might love more is the opportunity I’ve had over the last decade to share the imperfect games with other people, people who might have otherwise passed them on their occasional visit to GameStop in search of Madden or Destiny, Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty. I like finding greatness in the world’s biggest games, too, but I recognize they set an expectation of polish and scope that so many games can’t match. When I criticize a game, I do so to set expectations, to provide context, to interrogate what doesn’t work and to shine a light on what does.

I’m fascinated by the thought processes behind game mechanics, storylines, atmosphere, and any other part of the medium. And Plante hits at something crucial here — the little nuggets of excellence that exist in nearly every title to hit retail or digital shelves provide a truly unique experience in this world. I write about games for many of the same reasons that I write about music or sports: I love the worlds of these pursuits, and by writing about them, I can participate in their experiences (even if I can only do to as an observer).

I’ve found people who talk about video games in interesting, different ways, and I want to model my own discussion of this medium after what they do. The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh and Jason Concepcion make a weekly video game podcast called Achievement Oriented, and it’s always one of the first podcasts I listen to when new episodes come out. Achievement Oriented is my favorite game podcast because Lindbergh and Concepcion move past traditional news and reviews (though both elements are present in their commentary) to tell the stories behind the games they enjoy.

Here’s an example: Achievement Oriented usually opens with the co-hosts talking about games they’ve been playing recently before diving into interviews with people around the game industry. These interviews are always excellent, and this excellence comes from the discussions that Lindbergh and Concepcion pose. They ask questions about story lines, plot development, and big-picture game design, and always hit at something that most people haven’t thought of yet. These questions may seem like pretty typical fare at first, but each host shares a relentless commitment to fully exploring what makes these games unique and interesting. Much like Plante’s philosophy on the medium, they are able to showcase the best of what video games have to offer.

It may seem like I’m splitting hairs with this compliment, but Achievement Oriented is a vastly underrated podcast that is always a joy to listen to. The reason for this success is that the hosts go beyond traditional video game content to provide fascinating looks at the industry and its products. Consumers can find reviews, news, and other analysis anywhere else on the internet, but the perspective that Lindbergh and Concepcion bring every week sets their podcast apart.

If I could, I’d write something like a text version of Achievement Oriented every week. I don’t have the access that Lindbergh and Concepcion do though (or anything close to their talent). I’ve always tried to model myself after my favorite creators (regardless of medium) though, and even if this entire post is nothing less than a reflection of writers and podcasters whom I admire, it’s still worth writing down.

The final point I want to make is that I’m drawn to games because this medium offers something truly unique. Books, movies, and games all have powerfully different ways of telling stories and conveying experiences. No single one of these forms is inherently better than any other, but I want to keep giving my opinions on this one in any way I can.

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