Critical Hits: An Indie Gaming Anthology

Videogame criticism is a relatively underdeveloped genre, with most of the notable work having been done in the United States; however, this is beginning to change. Arguably the modern day’s most prolific new art form, gaming needs a critical language through which players can discuss their experiences. Similarly, it needs a language that allows people who don’t play videogames to gain an appreciation for the form, just as other genres have in the past. Just as we have always had literary critics, music critics, and film critics, the prevalence of videogames in modern culture is starting to get people to realise just how important it is that we start paying serious attention to videogame critics too.

Over the last year, Zoë Jellicoe of Liberties Press has been working on a collection of essays on video criticism, with work from a variety of journalists and developers involved in the independent gaming world featuring within it. Promising to deliver a range of criticism varying from “spatial design and existential fear, to the popularisation of roguelike games, to the representation of dating and the (in)complete history of walking sims”, the collection represents a great undertaking on Jellicoe’s part, and may well be the first of its kind amongst Irish criticism.

“There’s so much fantastic video game writing online and in magazines, but all I could find in the way of books were Minecraft handbooks.”

The description that Jellicoe has put out about the book on the Liberties Press website largely reflects the lack of videogame criticism available today, stressing its importance in light of gaming culture and game development taking a front-seat in popular media. “The children that grew up on Atari [70s-era gaming consoles] now have children of their own ― a generational bridge that has certainly played a part in the growing credibility of gaming culture,” the webpage acknowledges, going on to state that, “more and more, the aesthetic potential of games is being explored and realised within other media, as interactive art installations grow in prevalence and publishers look to digital storytelling.” This collection sees itself as a continuation of this exploration.

When asked why she had decided to put the collection together, Jellicoe replies that she had actually decided that she wanted to put together an anthology of writing about video games two years or so ago. “Sam Tranum [a previous Liberties Press editor] had just finished working on Silicon Docks, a collection of essays on Dublin’s tech culture,” she explains. “There’s so much fantastic video game writing online and in magazines, but all I could find in the way of books were Minecraft handbooks. I’m putting the collection together because nothing like it exists yet, and because I want to spread the word about all the exciting developments in indie design and gameplay, to gamers and non-gamers alike.”

The pool of writers involved include Totally Dublin contributor Leo Devlin, the writer, game critic and videogame narrative designer Cara Ellison, freelance games designer Holly Gramazio, and Soba Kareem, co-director of Dames Making Games. Also involved are Alone in the Park creator Katherine Neil, Rock, Paper, Shotgun contributor Adam Smith, The Arcade Review founding editor Zolani Stewart, editor Austin Walker, and Totally Dublin Art Director Aidan Wall. Jellicoe was also able to draft in the talents of Imogen Oh of Oh Hey Friend for the collection’s artwork, and Steve O’Connor will be creating the Kickstarter video. As Jellicoe explains, the collection swiftly became far more than just Jellicoe’s passion, it became the combined effort of this team of dedicated writers and artists.

Indie Game Cover

Ellison was the first person Jellicoe had gotten in touch with. “I love her writing and she’s also incredibly cool,” Jellicoe declares. “She was super enthusiastic and got back in touch immediately with a list of other writers and developers that she thought could be interested in getting involved. I badgered everybody over email ― and even one writer on Tinder ― with surprising success. A few writers had to pull out but almost everyone was really into the project, and even people who didn’t have the time to contribute a chapter asked to be kept updated and promised to plug it.”

“More and more, the aesthetic potential of games is being explored and realised within other media.”

Despite noting that nothing like the collection currently exists in the Irish scene, Jellicoe doesn’t necessarily view videogame criticism as a neglected genre, but rather as a misrepresented one. “Perhaps rather than neglected, mainstream media has tended to focus on only one side of the gaming community and video game development,” she clarifies, highlighting the divide in awareness between AAA, studio-backed games, and those made by indie developers. “A lot of newspapers don’t even really know where to put video game writing, if they include it at all, while radio tends to be more open-minded. Maybe that’s because radio has been more recently accepted as an art form. While there’s a lack of essay-length criticism, there’s more every day.”

In order to fund the collection, Jellicoe and Liberties Press will be launching a crowdfunding campaign on the 15th of February on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. They have a target goal of €3,500 that they’re hoping to raise in order to cover the fees for the writers, editorial, in-house design and production, publication and distribution. When asked why she had decided to go through Kickstarter to fund the collection, the answer was simple: connectivity. After all, the book is a collection of essays written by writers connected by their passion for videogames, so hoping that their audience will share that passion and help make the book a reality isn’t that much of a leap.

“I want to make books that I feel a connection to,” Jellicoe states, “but I also want to make books that other people are excited about, and what better way to gauge interest than through a crowdfunding campaign? If successful, it’s also essentially free publicity. Free, stressful, sleep-depriving publicity. Some very talented friends worked on the video, and Imogen from Oh Hey Friend has created some incredible artwork so I’m confident we’re putting our best foot forward.”

As for what she hopes to achieve with the collection, Jellicoe keeps her expectations modest. “One thing I’m hoping all the essays will have in common is an appeal to readers who might not be hardcore gamers themselves but have an interest in digital media,” she claims. “I’d love for the collection to break down some perceived barriers between other types of media, and it would be incredible if it helped foster a deeper and wider appreciation of independent games.”

You can find the Kickstarter for Critical Hits here. Finishing up on April 1st!

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