March 26, 2009

Print Is Dead

"Don't you know print is dead?" This is what someone asked me in a tone that was sympathetic, patronising and uncertain of its own cleveness.

This week, Idle Thumbs, the website that I used to write for and which has since been relaunched as a podcast, published 2,000 copies of an eight-page broadsheet newspaper to hand out around GDC. The newspaper reprinted Missed Connections and Interactive Journalism, originally seen right here on Hit Self-Destruct. Seeing those stories and my byline on actual pieces of paper was a strange and anachronistic feeling.

Right now, you can't read this newspaper unless you come to the Moscone Center today or tomorrow and grab a copy that's lying on a table somewhere. In the meantime, trust me: this thing looks amazing. Producing the Idle Thumbs Journal of Games required a Herculean effort and even up close it can be easily mistaken for a legitimate newspaper.

Tangentially, I'm not really supposed to be at GDC. I don't develop games. I see my role at the Game Developers Conference to sit quietly, take notes and not get in the way. The best thing about GDC is that Clint Hocking and Jonathan Blow can have an impromptu and public dialogue about encouraging player improvisation, or that two designers who are total strangers can strike up a high-level technical conversation because they happen to be sitting next to each other at a lecture. The more time I spend here, that's what I want to see happen -- not live-twittering the exclusive first teaser trailer and release date announcement for Modern Warfare 2. I haven't seen yet what's being reported about Keita Takahashi's Noby Noby Boy talk, but if all people got out of it was "Takahashi Announces Noby Noby Boy Multiplayer, iPhone Version" then that will be awful.

Developers talking to each other: that's what I want, but I can't be a part of it. As a member of the press -- in the loosest possible definition of the word 'press' -- I don't fit in at GDC, but this was never made completely explicit to me until I started thrusting newspapers in people's faces.

When you stand in the halls of the Moscone Center actively throwing papers around, people with bluetooth headsets and leather jackets look at you with contempt. They've just heard about Eskil Steenberg's cool tools and the lighting in Mirror's Edge and I'm so last century. Also, I'm annoying them.

I ended up sitting at the Game Design Challenge with two of my friends and about three hundred copies between us. Of all the GDC sessions, the Game Design Challenge is the closest to pure entertainment, and so is extremely well-attended. We decided to stand outside the lecture hall and as the crowd -- over two-hundred strong -- filtered out, we'd confront them all with a free newspaper. This isn't how you network.

We assigned ourselves to cover each of the three doors out of the conference. Pretty soon we were asking if someone wanted a newspaper every five seconds. A lot said no thanks or, more pleasingly, took it because it was free. Some tried to ignore us because they thought we were handing out the San Francisco Examiner. One guy accepted a copy and as he walked away I heard him exclaim "this isn't a real newspaper!" Eventually, a second session across the hall also finished and the traffic got so dense that the three of us fell back into a circle facing out at the surge and warding them off with our amusing and semi-fictional newspaper. It was a scene out of a zombie movie, except we were the print guys. We were the ones who are supposed to be dead.

I'm typing this in the GDC press room. As I get up to leave, I think I'll accidentally forget to take a newspaper with me.


Anonymous said...

This is the most bleak thing I've read so far about print media's current predicament, and I just got finished interviewing a game developer who couldn't get one out of the 90% of major holding companies they met with to work out amongst themselves whether or not to license a newsgame platform they'd developed...

The question I have is, if you'd just compiled the articles you re-printed as an RSS feed, and then emailed the feed to everyone attending... would they have read it then? I'm afraid that maybe more than print is dead.

Andrew said...

I must have seriously missed this, never saw one of your papers!

But I will be reading the articles of those you printed in it with agusto - Print is Dead! Long live Print! You made me read the things by posting about how you did a printed item with those things in them.

I actually should have been more active distributing flyers for the IGDA Preservation SIG. I've learnt my lesson, will do so next year :)

Now if only I could get something inside all those GDC bags...

Ben Abraham said...

Were the attendees really that averse to accepting something that was FREE?! It comes across like there was a collective "Ewww, print!" reaction - if that is accurate then it really is a sad day.

Anonymous said...

Do lots of papers get handed out at GDC, then? Or were people automatically on "no thanks, hawker" mode? It sounds sad that very few were willing to take the Thumbs paper off you guys.

Still, at least you have that brilliant snap of Tim Schaefer reading one on the Idle Thumbs homepage. Small compensation I'm sure, but hopefully enough to validate your valiant efforts (and, no doubt, the expense).

From the photo, it looks superb.