2011: A Year in Word Cobbling

Rather than repeat the torture of last year by posting everything I’ve written individually on this site, I’m going to cobble all of my witterings together into one single, hardy word-boot. 2011 was a fairly good year for my various writing endeavours. Alongside finishing my degree, I wrote for several major publications, extensively experienced the weird world of videogame news, and even won a prize for something that had nothing to do with computer games.

Indeed, while the vast majority of last year’s work was related to virtual entertainment, 2011 began by surprising me with a small accolade for my creative writing. In January I got an email from Lesley Glaister – the writer in residence at that time – informing me that I’d won Edinburgh University’s Lewis Edward’s memorial prize. Given that this was the first prize I’ve been awarded since I won a school easter-egg-garden competition when I was ten, I was insufferably smug for days.

I spent nearly all of the prize money on our pet rabbit, whose twenty-minute spaying procedure turned into a three-hour life-saving operation, costing the best part of £600, when the vet discovered a severe infection in her stomach and bladder. According to the research I’ve done (none), this officially makes Qi-Lin the most expensive rabbit in the entire world. Then again, if it hadn’t been for that op, we wouldn’t have been able to dress her up like Santa and use her as a Christmas card:

Totally worth it. The winning piece is here, along with a lot of my other creative stuff. I’ve never linked to this before. I’m oddly self-conscious about these stories, probably because subconsciously I think they’re all rubbish. Then again, that could just be false-modesty, and sub-subconsciously I really believe they’re collectively the greatest works mankind has ever produced, and that such unbridled works of genius were never meant for your philistine eyes.

The next three months consisted of the three main university food groups, namely dissertation, dissertation, and dissertation.  Then in April I finally took-up the games-journalism again by  becoming the news editor of Plughead.net, the cliché that arose from the ashes of PC Zone. I very briefly worked for Zone in 2010 before the Executive Druids of Future Publishing sacrificed it to the god of financial mismanagement. Apparently, the desk-space is now occupied by What Satellite. That’s What Satellite in case it didn’t register the first time.

As for the Plughead news gig, it’s given me perspective on just how strange gaming news is.  For those who know nothing about videogames, gaming news largely consists of tediously reconstituted press releases blithely informing you of how astonishingly original the teaser trailer for the pre-order-only retail-only DLC of Faces of Men of War VII is going to be. Sometimes an interesting nugget of news will crop up, like the time two French guys hijacked a truck full of Modern Warfare 3 copies, but a lot of it is just spoon-fed PR hype.

What always baffles me about gaming news is how often it strives to imitate real news, which results in unintentionally hilarious sentences like “Bobby Kotick announced today that the Call of Duty MMO will be officially announced on Thursday.” I made that one up, but it genuinely does happen.

Also, nearly all newspapers are horrendously biased anyway. That typical news-report style, ostensibly for the purpose of clarity and neutrality, is now mostly used to obfuscate facts and deliberately mislead the reader. Fortunately this doesn’t really happen when it comes to games, as games-journalists are extremely honest people, if somewhat susceptible to hype. So I feel it’s unwise to adopt a writing style that has earned a reputation for being notoriously untrustworthy.

Anyway, I don’t want this to turn into a manifesto, as games-journalism manifestos are equally irritating. This is primarily because they’re generally written by people like me who have only been in the industry for five minutes. Complaining is fine, but actively pursuing what you believe to be the correct way of doing something is better. I quickly learned this during the mistaken enterprise that was GameGripe.

In terms of the Plughead stuff, there’s far too much to link to, but a couple of fun news posts include the recent Planetside 2 trailer which is mostly men talking, a news post about Hideo Kojima which explored how Japanese games can compete better in the Western market, and a little rant about Windows 8. I also managed to squeeze in a few reviews. These included the likes of Dungeon Siege 3, Dirt 3 and of course, the incredible Skyrim which pretty much was November for me.

In May I started writing for PC Format, and that continued until September. None of that is online so I can’t link to it. Around the same time, however, I got back in touch with Strategy Informer after a year or so away, and ended up doing quite a lot of work for them. Most of it was reviews, all of which are linked to below:

Age of Empires Online

Cthulhu Saves The World

Dungeons: The Dark Lord

F1 2011

King Arthur: Fallen Champions

Men of War: Vietnam

Off Road Drive

Pirates of Black Cove

Red Orchestra 2

Stronghold 3

Serious Sam 3

Supreme Ruler: Cold War

Trine 2

Unity of Command

WRC FIA World Rally Championship

Then there were a few previews, which go like this:

MDK2 HD

Serious Sam 3

Serious Sam 3 again

TrackMania 2

Apparently I really like racing games, which is strange as driving in real life utterly terrifies me.

The last three months of 2011 saw my first feature commissions. I did a feature for bit-tech about the peculiar influences of 9/11 on videogames. Then I wrote two pieces for IGN – a fairly straightforward article on the psychology of achievements, which was enormously popular and very well liked, and another piece which examined the perceived price-gap between PC and Console gaming. This one was much harder work, and typically everyone hated it.

Lastly, in November I stepped out my comfy games-journalism slippers to write a feature for PC Pro on bionics and human enhancement. This was the biggest feature I’d ever done, and the most difficult to write. There were some hiccups, but I was pleased with it in the end, and I learned a lot in the process. Again, no link for this because it was printed, and trees haven’t evolved Internet ports yet.

So that was my self-indulgent 2011 compilation binge, hopefully 2012 will involved twice as much stuff. That’s basically my New Year’s Resolution “More stuff”. Cheerio!

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