Writing About Writers III

Tim Rogers is a freaking elitist, self-obsessed d-bag hipster. He is also better at critiquing video game design and describing the vagaries of the medium than anyone else, so we’ll have to make do with him for now. I can definitely live with his indulgently florid, exhaustingly tangential and parodically pedantic prose, since it imparts wisdom and experience nobody in his journalistic field is even approaching. It could very well turn out to be truly important (albeit pompous and frilly) in the years to come, if it isn’t already. His website, actionbutton.net, features writers with a markedly similar style and outlook as him.

Tim peels back the medium’s typical signifiers and cultural expectations and really describes games as immersive, ideally pleasing systems and patterns, examining their holistic effect. He is a champion of emergent story as a function of the player’s actions and decisions, and is always ready to nitpick when the logic of a game world is inconsistent.

Rogers sees games in a novel way. Sometimes, they are sociological and symbolic artifacts. Other times, he explores them as an amalgam of narrative and design. Most of the time, you can be sure that he will go on a pretentious, irrelevant tirade for many paragraphs. But that’s to be expected, because like I said, he’s kind of a weirdo, embracing the chic-est of chic trends and balancing game programming with a weird Otaku personal lifestyle.

Nonetheless, he’s not actually hurting anybody and indeed seems to be quite level-headed and pacifist. So that’s okay. Anyway, the point is, there are impulses and subconscious decisions behind our everyday gaming button presses, trigger movement and map navigating, and he really understands them like no other. Plus, it’s hard to tell at first, but his rambling postulations can be quite sardonic and self-deprecating, which is an antidote to his condescension.

His recent review of The Last Of Us is recommended for circumventing most of his flaws: it’s loquacious and wise without being arcane and conceited, and his philosophy about game design is made unusually down-to-earth and clear.

Steven Hyden is a friendly, everyman writer and critic who has nonetheless penned some of the most informative and entertaining sociocultural pieces I have read. He is particularly good at cultural cross-sections, analyzing entire movements and eras rather than just writing one album review. For evidence, see his outstanding series on the importance of R.E.M., his saga “Whatever Happened to Alternative Nation?” or his pieces entitled “The Winners’ History Of Rock and Roll”. He can be subjective and nostalgic one minute, and a cracking good historian with an eye on the zeitgeist the next. Steven gets beyond typical critical buzzwords and groupthink to offer context and refreshingly creative ways to look at rock music, his primary focus. He is very good at both considering the big picture and thinking about minute details in a refreshingly simple way.

Matt Murray

Located at Corn Pone Flicks, an independent site, Murray writes immaculately worded, comprehensive analyses of films that manage to work pertinent information and criticism into every small tangent and detail. Through his diction and movie choice, you really get a sense of his personality, and more importantly the notion that he’s very well-versed and balanced.

He’s anything but pretentious, although he certainly knows the value of a technically proficient, thematically compelling film. He can also revel in well-executed cartoonishness and spectacle, providing a balance that keeps him from being one of the more pedantic, starchy writers here. His body of work is relatively small, but I can attest to the fact that he still updates at irregular intervals.

Film Crit Hulk

Though he writes in sometimes hard-to-read caps, this guy is far from just a gimmick. He writes exhaustively and extensively of form, technique and function of narrative, character and filmmaking using verbose, but eminently understandable prose. And believe me when I say he makes those potentially dry, didactic concepts come to life with plenty of good examples, an innate clarity, and a very conversational touch. He’s very thorough and focused on whichever topic he chooses. Out of all these writers, his pieces are the closest to argumentative essays, in the original sense of the word. His points are well made, but delivered with kindness and consideration. You can tell the actual author is a hugely experienced industry insider because of Hulk’s vast storytelling and film acumen. Hulk is also very prolific, considering all the superheroing he has to do in his day job.

Nitsuh Abebe is a Nigerian music journalist with a great humanism, and an eye for keen insights into cultural trends and the psychology behind them. More importantly, he has a knack for delivering these thoughts with colorful, descriptive writing and getting to complex points in deceptively simple ways. Even if he’s just spinning his wheels, he never gets too self-absorbed or tangential. Despite frequently writing about timely, trendy music, his thoughts ring true beyond the ostensible subject and seem generally wise and applicable to life. They are also short, sweet and nicely organized. For a good example, check out his coverage of the Pitchfork festival and its peculiar denizens.

@Discographies is so damn clever. Recently revealed to be the guise of writer Andy Zax, it’s the main reason I joined Twitter. His prose elevates (or reduces, as the case may be) music journalism to the level of Zen koans; finely wrought, minimalist passages whose every detail cunningly conveys multitudes of information. For instance, comparing Van Halen albums to James Bond actors takes an uncommon mind, as does a list of Rolling Stones records likened to different types of arousal, but it’s brilliantly perceptive and aesthetically fitting when one thinks about it. Sadly, @Discographies has been out of commission for some time now. I wish him a speedy return to Twitter; it’s much more boring without him.

Recommended reading: The entire feed. Come on, it’s the size of two normal articles. What are you, illiterate?

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