Critical Distance: The First Month and the Future

Dear Critical Distance Readers, Contributors and Interested Parties,

What is Critical Distance? What is its purpose and what is its aim? What gap in the field, what niche of interest, does it serve to fill?

These are questions I have been asking myself for the past few weeks, and they go largely without satisfactory answers. However, I think we are beginning to see at least the general form these answers will take – outlined by the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, as it were.

So far, we’ve operated quite successfully from a “we’ll figure it out as we go along” mentality, and that has resulted in some great initial efforts, and more than our fair share of attention. We have started by posting links to blogs and intelligent articles that deal with aspects of games, game design, game culture, player theory, and that’s been fine so far. The internet clearly does not need another Aggregator site for videogame content – and we have rightfully identified this. We have however identified the related, yet fundamentally different need forarchiving” – that is, having an easy and sensible way of collating, arranging, referencing, and just generally remembering important blog posts, articles and discussions.

It is telling that the most excitement and interest in Critical Distance has been for the “Critical Compilations”, and I have personally seen the Braid Critical Compilation name-checked in a number of places, completely unexpectedly. So where does that leave us? Have the link-out posts been a failure? Certainly not – however I think that they can be significant improved and brought into line with this core idea of keeping the threads together and of archiving.

It is also telling that the most successful of these ‘link-out’ posts have been the larger, more comprehensive ones. Specifically, Denis Farr’s recent Achievement Unlocked: Sex which, while focused on the discussion of a single post, elaborates on certain points with links to other articles and the ideas contained within them.

This is where I see the most fruitful area for the future of Critical Distance coverage – in being able to bring together and synthesize a new post and new coverage from disparate arguments and multiple sources. Think of it as providing the community with access to your memory, your own history of reading, your store of knowledge gained through the engagement with ideas in blog posts, and with each-other. Within this notoriously short-memoried and shortsighted community you the contributors are the elders. A videogame blog that has a critical slant and that has been around for more than a year is still a bit of a rarity, and the fractured nature of the community results in a lot of what seems like ‘re-inventing the wheel’. We see it all the time when, for example, videogames get compared to movies – I’m sure you will have read a lot of arguments for and against aspects of the topic over the years (Michael Abbott’s from some-time last year, and LB Jeffries’ most recent essay on the subject come immediately to mind).

But plenty of people interested in our writing and writing about games haven’t read those yet, or may have just forgotten about them. We can remind them, if we make the effort and do so in a humble and non-condescending way, we can help to work against the trend to continually re-hash the same old tired topics. And we can do it without becoming elitist, or inwardly focused (an allegation some have leveled against the game studies movement within academic circles). What better way to say you’re outwardly focused than to demonstrate how widely read you are on a subject?

So what can we do practically? For starters, I would like to solicit your feedback on this proposed shift of focus, as well as on the general operation of Critical Distance so far. What parts have you found personally useful? What things would you like to see change, or would you do differently? Secondly, I would like to ask contributors to re-think their approach to posts from now on (and if you haven’t done one, consider this for any future posts) by trying to include alternative sources, contrary opinions or further elaborations on the topic of the original article. If you have read something before that has relevance to the discussion, include it. If you’ve never read anything about the subject before then obviously the post is doubly worth highlighting for its unique contribution as well as to find out about what others might have read related to it. Sharing relevant links with others interested in certain topics or discussions has, in my view, been one of the better successes of Critical Distance so far.

All of this will necessitate posts being longer than they have previously, but that’s actually fine. We will work to keep a limit on the number of daily posts to keep it manageable for our readers. We are most definitely not trying to compete with the Kotaku’s of the world and their frenetic posting schedule, slow and thorough is good (In fact better – and I have personally had to make a mental adjustment in this area).

Thank you again to everyone who has worked to make Critical Distance whatever it currently is, and whatever it shall become.

Edit: 5/10/09 – The comments section is now closed, we thank everyone who took the time to leave feedback.