Games Review Grand Prix 2004

From the time when I was 16 until about the time I got out of graduate school, I did not pay close attention to games. I sold both my GameCube and my NES to have some gas and pocket money during my first month of graduate school and didn’t really think about it much1 until I got my first post-Indiana job and wanted to hang out with some people online. I then bought a PlayStation 4 and played more Destiny 1 than I would care to admit even among avid game players. In that time, writing about games has come into its own far more than I even know and various outlets now support excellent games criticism, even in the mainstream (e.g. Waypoint). Even with events like GamerGate, my relationship was one of reading the summary articles in the aftermath and some occasional Twitter bad actor reporting whenever its arms crept into my small online reach.

Now, as part of research legwork for the Katamari project, I am coding a corpus of every review I can find for the games (beginning from Metacritic), starting with the first title in 2004. For any notion I might have had regarding where “games writing” came from, the actual reality is as bad as any white woman/person of color in games could tell you many times over. Maybe more shocking to me is the amount of people now in high profile positions that show up in my review corpus. To be clear, I haven’t spent enough time with these texts to construct for you a cogent “how the hell do people keep hiring this person” hit piece or anything like that. I just find myself looking up these authors every other review or so to find that they are still regularly writing features in the industry as if they didn’t outright dismiss successful, award winning titles as girl games, or as if they aren’t using the word “bitch” exactly how you think in a small number review for peanuts (or likely for free with some of these outlets). I am thankful that the space for writing is large and professionalized enough that a lot of the worst stuff doesn’t quite fly anymore and that excellence is getting noticed and rewarded to a small degree (from my limited vantage point). But even within the last few weeks between a GG-like mob getting a feminist industry veteran fired and a professional outlet known to harbor GG relaunching with a “no politics” pledge, folks have rightfully noted that a groundswell remarkably similar to the emboldening of white supremacist-led hate crimes under the current United States political administration is amassing in the games space again in a way that looks remarkably similar to the precursors of what we now call GamerGate.

Since I work in a cultural heritage institution and am trained in historiography, I wonder often about the kind of Swiss-cheese, wet tissue paper-like environment now facing people that try and work with early digital and web materials. Even for studying documents from 2004 the Internet Archive is only somewhat reliable for the online arms of print publications, some of which still exist today. Many folks who work on both early web history and the history and current state of digital white supremacy could educate you much better than I could about the challenges of doing the necessary work to document and historicize this time in a meaningful way. I mention this just to say that the kind of short historical memory rewarded by the current political and media landscapes are only further entrenched because of the gaping hole staring at us from the digital architecture from that era–holes in large part protected in unwieldy ways by poorly modernized legal mechanisms.2 As excited as I am to see the Katamari project through, I am equally grateful to have the time to reflect on the history of a space that is new to me and to which I am an outsider–one which quite a few people I respect have lived emphatically and are still around to talk about it.

Other things

I bought a Nintendo Switch with the money I was going to spend on a musical instrument I do not need. It is as good as advertised and then some. I just need the big titles to get out of the $60 dollar range before I can play them. I went ahead and bought Breath of the Wild anyway and of course Open World Link works. I find the controls a bit awkward, but I am coming off Skyrim/Dragon Age: Inquisition.

1: The notable exception, which plays a large part in my ever getting here intellectually in the first place, was a guest lecture by William Gibbons about the game Catherine for IU’s musicology department. Coincidentally, I am currently playing through Shin Megami Tensei IV (the game in development right before Catherine) as I write this. Atlus is a trip. Also coincidentally, I played a fair amount of Katamari on my roommate’s PlayStation 2 while I was between schools working dead end foodservice jobs and part-time marching band instruction contracts.

2: Just ask me some time about the challenges presented to historically-minded music institutions (especially libraries) by the DMCA and digital music. Actually, buy me a drink first.

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