April 29, 2008

Weather Cancellations

Far too late for it to mean anything, I bought the de facto final issue of Games for Windows. I had to have a copy so I could unload it on eBay for $7,000. I accept PayPal.

I didn't read Computer Gaming World in its mid-90s Johnny Wilson heyday and I wasn't in the Post's newsroom in '74 breaking Watergate wide open so I'm not feeling overly nostalgic for the death of PC gaming or the death of print (pretty unlucky to be at ground zero of that particular Venn diagram.) But I'm hardly thrilling to a world where "GFW magazine" now refers, uncontested, to Golf for Women. I've never been interested in gamer-identity-by-platform-stratification and that's not what I'm going to miss about the magazine. I'm going to miss the writing.

It was exactly the kind of writing that gamers, developers and critics bemoan the lack of while not really looking for it. Was GFW gaming journalism's Lester Bangs or Pauline Kael? No, but who gives a shit? In its last months, the magazine's writers could be counted amongst the very few in the profession not only eschewing the press' traditional role as marketing tools but actually trying to raise the bar. This meant critical previews and long-form, in-depth features that resembled investigative journalism over exclusive covers and vapid hype. It was beginning to transcend its mandate to appeal to everyone interested in video games or gaming culture. Evidently no one cared.

Who knows what was stopping people from realising it was actually a good magazine. It takes a while for that kind of reputation to catch on, and GFW probably started at a disadvantage sporting the official Microsoft brand. Maybe it's hard to overcome the perception of EDGE as the only gaming magazine that does any real writing. And some might have found it hard to believe that in 2008 CGW could be something greater than the standard-bearer of a tapped-out zeitgeist. Computer Gaming World had its day for sure, and that day was very specifically part of a different era. Kind of like video game journalism's Juliana Hatfield; whose relevance was tied exclusively to 1991-3, but she still makes albums for some reason.

Or maybe GFW's decline in popularity has everything to do with it not being online and not being free. It couldn't be the same magazine it was even ten years ago. Print can't subsist on reviews and previews anymore. Kane & Lynch's not such an interesting game to read about in February, especially when the review is so substantively similar to all the ones published in December. A magazine can't be the internet except two months later and you're supposed to respect it more for being in print.

You weren't going to get timeliness with GFW. Nor did you need it. GFW was delivering exactly the kind of features and editorial that made them viable as a print magazine. They weren't just viable, they were good. They could promise articles that were at this level and had this degree of investigative detail and, yeah, they were going to look really nice. It didn't matter if you liked PC games or not. It mattered if you liked games. Lara Crigger reported on gaming in the Middle East and the process of codification for video game writers. Robert Ashley hung out in a virtual representation of Manhattan's Lower East Side, watching band videos at a club with hipster bots ("Technology has taken music in many cool directions. This is not one of them.") Erik Wolpaw played Universe at War as a responsible civic planner. Reviews and previews were written intelligently and with an eye towards analysis rather than hyperbolically validating the reader's choice of gaming platform. It threw its weight behind the most hopeful conception possible of the gaming press: critical, level-headed, independent from PR coercion and staffed by writers instead of product evaluators. Sort of like real journalism. It's amazing how long it's taking to get there.

The internet has some great writers, but signal-to-noise ratios mean it's going to take longer than it should to find them. GFW did the work. It assembled great, smart writers every month. You could rely on a certain standard of quality. Everyone talks about the danger of the cult of personality, and yeah, it's a little ridiculous how every gaming publication suddenly needs a podcast. But personality is what it should be about. When you picked up a copy of GFW you should expect more of it than an affirmation of your PC gaming enthusiasm. You should know Jeff Green, Shawn Elliott, Sean Molloy, Ryan Scott; you should know how they write. That should be worth something.

But apparently it isn't.

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