The List Jam Roundup

This February, the annual games writing jam took the theme of Lists! I chose it for two reasons, first of all that it’s obviously been a hell of a year since the last writing jam, and I wanted to choose a theme or format that would allow people to easily scope their contributions as big or as small as they were comfortable working with. But secondly, I’ve noticed over the past few years that people have been getting increasingly meta and critical within the year end list period (Into The Spine’s massive guest list is a great example of the variety you can find). It made me think about the types and uses of lists in general… are they really just for ranking the commercial must-plays of another year, to entice people to only consume more and more? Or can we do something else with them?

The answer to that ended up being a resounding “we can do PLENTY of things with lists!” You can check out my contribution here, but to get a real sense of the variety and ground covered throughout the jam, read on…

Organizing History

Rather than just churning through the year’s hype cycle or trying to establish gamer cred hierarchy, these entries really wrestled with what it means to put videogames in a list, how we sort, order and select gaming history, and even the readings that can help us make sense of it.

Alternate Histories

On the other hand, a lot of approaches to list-making can come across as rather impersonal, trying to make an objective ranking that necessarily just “speaks for itself” these contributions instead dug into their own memories, preferences and ways of thinking to create lists that are a refreshing personal alternative.

Personal Playstyles

Similarly, these entries use the list format to explore and highlight moments of realization, strategies and reflection in their own moment-to-moment play of games, highlighting that as much as we analyze videogames as a designed artifact, we ultimately don’t have any special insight into what players actually end up doing unless we ask.

Focusing Critique

Instead of a list oriented around the best or most historic things, these lists took the approach of gathering examples to focus a specific critique, of representation, aesthetics or concepts circulating widely in the videogames space. In this case, a list sharpens an argument for what is overlooked and what we should be paying attention to in our discussions of games.

Exploring Narrative

The format of a list, regardless of its purpose, can also tell its own stories. This set of entries tells a story as a list of steps, or items, or uses the form of a list to examine how narrative emerges in videogames.

Character Select

The characters you can play and the characters you encounter in games can also be read as an inventory of possibilities and themes in the game world. These entries investigate character creation, enemy archetypes, dialogue interactions, and even invent some new classes to think about protagonists and NPCs alike.

Spaces and Places

What can a list convey about a place? Quite a lot! From naming and remembering places to cataloguing the things found there, lists have always been tools for making sense of space. These entries offer a peek into mental landscapes, water levels, controversial islands, the frontier of space and a strange museum in the form of a list.

Informing Practice

I’m always excited when people connect the critical writing component of the writing jams to their own practice making art or games. These entries used the form of a list specifically to inspire, reflect, or iterate on their creative practice, work they’d like to do, or work they’d like to see someday.

Walking Through

The best game walk-throughs are like an animated list of tasks, letting you envision how to get from place to place, or piece together a dungeon based on the enemies or items within. Using the format of lists to capture the moment-to-moment experience of gameplay (or the moment you put the controller down) is the focus of these lists.

Structural Explorations

And of course, some entries (quite a lot, actually) used the theme to contemplate the structural form and purpose of the list in general, to stretch it to its conceptual limits, or to see if it could function as a game mechanic in its own right. Here’s a thought-provoking set to wrap up the round-up!

Thanks again to all participants for contributing to another annual writing jam!

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