Every year, Critical Distance produces a feature entitled This Year In Video Game Blogging. You’ll be seeing 2014’s roundup in just a few weeks, so let’s take a moment to talk about how the sausage is made.
We have always endeavored at Critical Distance to be open and honest with our methods. Over the years, we’ve refined our process, taking note of what eased the load, while broadening the view.
The Starter Lists
We begin by creating the three starter lists. The first list is my own, crafted by going through all of our This Week In Video Game Blogging roundups featured over the past year. The second list is created by our staff curators. The third and final list is the combined suggestions from our readers.
The First List
The first starter list is the bedrock on which TYIVGB is built. First, I put together a list of links that are auto-shortlisted. Either they have been deemed to sum up an issue or game perfectly, it was a huge deal throughout the year, or otherwise is one of those pieces which was so significant that it clearly merited inclusion. Previous examples include Brendan Keogh’s book on Spec Ops: The Line, Killing is Harmless, and Leigh Alexander and Kirk Hamilton’s Final Fantasy VII letter series.
For the rest of the first starter list, I read through all the TWIVGBs of the past year. I pull out all the links I remember throughout the year and any further links that seem of interest for the year roundup. Previously, I read all of the featured links, but this was time-consuming and my current method creates pretty much the same starter list in a much shorter amount of time.
The Second List
The second starter list comes from our other curators. Each staff member creates a list of pieces they feel should be considered. They can submit anything they feel worthy of inclusion to augment my own effort, whether it’s something they feel I may overlook due to my personal perspective or simply a piece that didn’t make it into a TWIVGB for whatever reason. They use their own discretion in how they each create their personal submission lists.
The Third List
The final starter list is the simplest: we collect all the suggestions emailed from our readers, as long as they’re before the final due date. If you’d like to send in a reader submission of your own, you can learn about that process here.
[Patch Notes 12/7/2015] – How we are addressing the three starter lists has changed slightly. We are still taking reader suggestions. However, instead of dividing ourselves into separate starter lists, we will divide the year up and come up with a collective starter list. All our other curators will have to send in suggestions like our non-staff readers. This is aimed at easing up the pressure on me and speeding up the process to meet our deadline. I will still scan through the TWIVGB I don’t assign myself on the lookout for any potentially glaring oversights, but not closely consider every link like in previous years. In short, we have cut the three starter lists down to two.
Once I have the starter lists, I clear out the duplicates. Since inclusion in the shortlist isn’t based on popular vote, if something is already on one list, it doesn’t need to be on another. This helps streamline the next few steps. Also, I remove any obvious non-starters: joke suggestions, pieces that go against our mission statement, and those that don’t meet the higher standards necessary in a yearly roundup. They may be perfectly fine for TWIVGB, but TYIVGB is a different beast — it is more selective and refined.
From there, we consolidate all three starter lists into a longlist. This usually contains 100 to 300 articles. The length determines how long I spend culling it. Some pieces cover the same ground; others don’t meet the same standard of quality; and others still are those we like, but ultimately don’t add significantly to the critical corpus.
We also have a method for special edge cases such as if there is no single, high-quality article on an important issue; if there’s a gap representing a larger conversation that is spread quite thin; or if there is other missing representation in the fabric of the year. For these cases, the Critical Distance advisory board can make decisions where straight curation fails. Such cases are rare, and I have probably spent more time considering how to deal with hypothetical cases than I have ever actually needed to deal with a real one.
Eventually, the longlist becomes the shortlist. In practical terms, this is when the list length is down to double digits. Then I meet with Kris Ligman, our Senior Curator. Together, we give the shortlist a once-over. It’s good to have a second set of eyes check the work, ask me questions about the choices and give me an opportunity to defend any questionable pieces i.e. for the aforementioned reasons of notability. By this point, my brain is usually fried, and it never hurts to double-check your work.
An Aside Concerning Self-Nomination
As all of our staff curators are themselves critics and commentators actively writing about games, it only makes sense that articles with our bylines would show up among the longlists and shortlist. That being said, we’re not here just to promote our own work, so we’ve developed an honor code of sorts for dealing with these situations.
It has long been our policy to never recommend our own work for the weeks we do TWIVGB. We can nominate our work when someone else is doing the roundup and thus able to properly evaluate our work, but never for our own weeks, except in special cases (for instance, when we are linking to a zine or anthology in which we are one of several authors). In my case, I adopted this policy because, in years past, I was the primary submitter of links and thus had considerable influence over the curation. As our site has grown in popularity, that influence and inclusion rate has decreased considerably, but we have continued with this policy in the name of fairness.
Being the lead curator on our year-end roundup, I recuse myself from judging any of my own work for possible inclusion. Instead, anything of mine which has been included in TWIVGB over the past year I hand over to Senior Curator Kris as a separate document. Kris makes the call on which, if any, of this is included. I have no say in this part of process, and I’ve done it this way every year since the first TYIVGB. It’s only fair that someone else pass judgment on my work.
[Patch Notes 12/7/2015] – We’ve revised our policy on curating pieces by members of the team. Any pieces that may be included in the roundup by current serving members of the Critical Distance staff will be segregated out under its own topic heading, to showcase what we’ve been up to in the past year. These are limited to one piece per person. The methods behind their choosing remain the same. Anthologies, zines and other works with multiple authors are excluded from this consideration.
Once the curation is finished, we organize the articles into an outline and then comes the easy part: writing the feature. I write the descriptions and attributions of each piece, along with descriptions of their respective categories and a conclusion that sums up the whole year.
Like any act of creation, curation is an work of subjectivity. TYIVGB is what I, and the rest of the team, personally consider to be the most representative writing of the year — not necessarily the “best,” however that may be defined. Additionally, while others contribute to the process, it is still me behind the feature. TYIVGB will thus come tinged with all the biases and thought processes inherent in those facts.
Hopefully, This Year in Videogame Blogging will act as a snapshot of the year. The aim is simply to create something that someone looking at it years hence will read and say, “Yep, that was the year that was.” If we can accomplish that, then we’ve done our jobs.