That Peculiar Enchantment

Gaming was never supposed to be an emotional experience. When I was young, video games were sold in toy aisles of department stores rather than electronics or media sections, and the adults in my life categorized them as harmless distractions rather than deeper entertainment moments. But I knew better.

In fact, in the early days, that was part of gaming’s charm. My friends and I understood what arcane power lay beneath the gray plastic housing of those NES cartridges and between the dark, sticky aisles of the mall arcades. These were secret worlds, ours to discover and cherish.

Squashed and jagged as they were, the characters in our games were real to us, more so than the hyper-styled people on TV. They responded to our wishes and empowered us with their potential energy. These new worlds were barely formed, but we could sense their future meaning. Adults would never get it.

Today, gaming is a Real Thing. The videogame industry is worth billions. And more and more, the creative worlds of LA and San Francisco are overlapping, becoming something even stranger than their previous fictions.

I entered the industry (if there really is such a thing at all, but more on that later) by writing, talking and learning about those worlds as an editor at IGN. There was a time when I thought I’d never leave. But things change. Worlds shift.

Late last year, I moved to the product side of games business – the side where people actually make things instead of making lists about them. Now I work at 38 Studios. Its people are some of the most talented and creative working in gaming today, and I’m humbled to count myself among their ranks. There are some amazing things happening there, and I wish I could list them all here. But that would spoil the fun.

Whoa

Also, this happened.

Leaving IGN, and journalism in general, was a hard decision, but in the same way choosing between two radically different flavors of ice cream is hard. At some point, as delicious as the chocolate is, sometimes you just have to try the strawberry. Especially if the strawberry is making an amazing game set in a massive, brand-new fantasy world built from scratch by some seriously powerful minds. Pulling back the curtain to see the clockwork within – it was just too strong a lure to resist.

There’s something stubbornly magical about the world of videogames, despite our best efforts to turn it into just another respectable entertainment medium. Do we want to be Hollywood? Gore Verbinski, bless his filthy rich heart, says emphatically no. What about the music business, with its emphasis on big hits and fat margins? Or is there room for something different? Something new? Something that sees the audience as something more than a sack of meat at the end of a wallet chain?

Smart people are using large chunks of academic bandwidth arguing about whether or not games are art. But that’s the wrong question. Shouldn’t we start by asking why they’re games? If you’ve listened to me on podcasts, read my work on IGN or followed my ramblings on antisocial networks, you know I struggle with the word “game” as a blanket descriptor for entertainment experiences that consist of both input and output. It’s a nomenclatural shrug that separates fun and feeling, much like the word “comics” sells short a medium which finds its truest utility not in being jokey, but rather in teasing emotion from that mysterious juncture of word and image. Games do that too, but they do it in a scarier, more intense, eerily synesthetic way. Magic.

I’ve spent the last few years trying to qualify that peculiar enchantment, to put it in a box and assign it a number. And while I may have succeeded in helping gamers understand my perspective on various products, I’m not convinced I was ever able to sufficiently explain Why Games Matter. And maybe that was never really my job. Actually, it’s probably yours. So let me know when you figure it out. I’ll be listening.

Although I’m immeasurably excited about my current adventure, it was hard to end the previous one. So hard, in fact, that I’m only writing about it four months later. My fellow IGN editors ceased being co-workers long ago and became friends. We shared unprintable experiences, which I’m sure will eventually be revealed at the most inopportune moment possible.

For the past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to have an extended chat with the biggest, best, craziest gamer community on the planet. And although I’m no longer an IGN editor, I’ll always be part of the conversation with gamers, game makers and all the other weird, wonderful online denizens who steadfastly refuse to be labeled.

I’m still on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin this blog and other, stranger places. Reach out. Although it’s not longer my place to criticize games, I still have opinions, and I care about yours. And no, I can’t get you a job. Unless you’re a complete badass who can’t seem to hang onto a pair of sunglasses because they burn to ash each time you put them on, by the sheer force of your badassery.

It’s an amazing time to be involved with games, art, digital entertainment or whatever the internet eventually decides to call this slippery beast. Things are changing, even while they stay the same. New worlds are coming to life at this very moment. There’s something magical about that.

3 comments on “That Peculiar Enchantment”

  1. Mark Ryan Sallee

    Wait a minute. You don’t work at IGN anymore?

    An IGN editor’s manifesto would be a pretty amazing read. Maybe ou should start it.

  2. Francisco Gutierrez

    No idea why the title for this post is the peculiar enchantment. Even after leaving IGN, Ryan’s titles and sub-headers continue to bewilder and confuse his readers.

    Good luck, man. Cheers on your new endeavors. Look forward to the (i’m assuming as-of-now unannounced) project. Also: This article is major spoliers right there.

    (#TRL podcast)

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