“My name is Justin. And unfortunately, I’m a games critic.”
That’s a great intro, I think. Short, to the point, and says a lot with a little. It’s also not the first time I’ve written it. Over the summer of 2019, I had a short-lived fire under my ass to make a YouTube video about all things good and shitty about game criticism, and that was the first line. Ultimately, it was stymied by the fact that I had to be the one to narrate it, and despite a heroic effort, I underestimated the extent to which I hate the sound of my own voice. Still, work went in, there’s about 10 minutes of an unfinished video sitting on my hard drive right this second that’ll likely never seen the light of day outside of it.
That is, sadly, not the first casualty of an ongoing effort to want to say something more extensive, in a much less restrictive space. There have been more structured concept websites, purchased domains, prolific periods of twitter rants, freelance pitches, and on, and on, and on, and none of them have stuck, either due to actual paid work taking priority, or my own lack of focus.
Lack of focus shouldn’t be confused with lack of desire or effort however, just…lack of focus. Fun fact: I, like the vast majority of games journalists who aren’t holding down a true full-time gig at an outlet, have a 40-hour a week day job, and somehow still find an incredible amount of time per week to play and write about video games. Like the vast majority of people working under late-stage capitalism, given the choice between the thing that pays bills vs the more fun thing that doesn’t….well, real talk, it’s not really a choice, is it? Either way, the former must always happen first, and given just how large a piece of the time pie that video games take up for me in a typical week, that doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for self-reflection on the level necessary to dedicate oneself to a single new career endeavor.
So, of course, I’m starting a new blog.
There are a few reasons. Chuck Wendig is pretty high on the list of reasons. Lauren Ash is also probably a factor, I’ve been listening to her podcast, Giving It Up For Less, lately and her End of Year episode talking about how “the chaos caught up with me” and losing your sense of identity in it hit harder than I was expecting. Above that is the aforementioned need to write about game stuff and whatever the hell I want without the added pressure of having to commodify it–though, a Ko-fi link probably isn’t the worst idea in the world, but the most anyone’s probably doing with that is buying my lunch occasionally, not, you know, depending on it to pay chunks of my rent. But also, having the option of writing, and being able to get painfully, awkwardly personal is a huge upside for me at this stage. Especially because of the #1 answer on the board: I’ve genuinely and truly come to hate social media.
Of course, there are the larger overarching reasons for that: Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey are inhuman scum, and their leadership is reducing human beings to zeroes and ones in ways that have gotten, are getting, and will get people killed, and yet, somehow, it seems impossible for people who aren’t inhuman scum to make social networks with anything even remotely resembling the same level of basic functionality. But this goes deeper. I’ve told friends for years at this point, probably since the whole GamerGate situation back in 2014, that if it wasn’t professionally necessary–as in, most games industry jobs require that you have some level of social media presence–I’d burn my Twitter account to the ground, salt the Earth, and never look back. Yes, a large part of that is, well, all the goddamn Nazis. But the problem goes far beyond the shitheads trying to crowdfund Final Solution II: The Quickening. Irony and cynicism are too deeply baked into the self-defense mechanisms of everyone dealing with the fascist shithead problem, and should you love anything whatsoever that anyone has done in the expanse of human history, there exists someone whose sworn duty on this green Earth is to take a piss on other peoples’ joy. Sure, there are scenarios where that’s deserved and warranted, but we are just at a hair-trigger for this stuff at all times, and the default state of rest is now ironic detachment.
I’ve always been an optimist, and this is ultimately the best time to be an optimist, and that’s based on how many people ARE angry at the right things and willing to get in drag-out fights about them. You know when it’s a good time to be a nihilist? When life is horrifying and no one is screaming about it. But right now, they are. Loudly. But this cannot be our state all the time. We can’t forget to have everything else.
Look, just to circle this around to a nerd language everyone can understand, because all roads lead here anyway: this is the reason The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars film, because it contains the single most poignant line about fighting a just war, and it’s what Rose says to Finn. Fighting what we hate isn’t enough to win a war. We win by saving what we love. And an environment that enjoys fighting what it hates more than it does embracing genuine, unironic love for things is poisonous.
That poison is how I found myself in just the worst depression two weeks ago. It was bad enough that the last half-dozen things I’d written and done go unremarked upon and unseen. That included Best of the Year and Best of the Decade videos that i absolutely loved doing, but shared online to absolute crickets. That hurt, but, it was the holidays, I could understand that. But having that be ignored in favor of the din of people I love becoming baleful, angry, and spiteful at the slightest things while finding nothing to be joyous about? It was just a perfect storm of things that sent me spiraling. Constant, unending cynicism hurts. That is what social media was feeding me, for weeks on end. And that’s how I ended up stepping away from all of it for two weeks.
And God it was good.
I noticed things more. I got more excited about the sun being out. There’s nothing to review for a few weeks, so I found myself trying to find a warm blankets in any medium I had. I watched a shit ton of movies, and putting a dent in the massive pile of unwatched 4K Blu Rays I have sitting on the cabinet next to my couch. I started up a new game of Final Fantasy XV, and swiped my wife’s copy of Pokemon Shield. I took more advantage of days when it was quiet. I started liking things again.
The conundrum there is that I also have the pathological need to share things I love with other people. Trying that and no one responding was part of why I wound up depressed in the first place, but the paradox is that it’s something social media is uniquely great at when it’s at its best. But I also hate being on it.
Hence, this. A middle ground. My own personal corner of the raucous social media bar where I can drink and talk about things in peace. Nobody’s stopping anyone from dropping in. But I also don’t have to get in the middle of every fight to feel heard, either. And I think that’ll be good.
At the very least, it’ll mean i can use more than 300 characters to tell you why Hop in Pokemon Sword/Shield sucks. He sucks so much, people. So much.
“My name is Justin. And unfortunately, I’m a games critic.”