Some of you may know me as that long-winded fellow who loves everything he reviews.
Well, yes. I mean, no. How dare you.
My name is Charlie. I write for many outlets, mostly because I’m vain and desperately hoping for some level of higher success as I push my games writing resume to grow every which way it can. As of this moment I contribute at least semi-regularly to Ars Technica, Geek & Sundry, The Review Corner, and Tabletop Gaming. I’d love to expand that and have my name published on Polygon, Kotaku, and even tattooed on someone’s nether-regions some day. We all have hopes and dreams.
One of the few benefits of working in print is that these places all pay. They’re professional outlets and that chunk of money which ranges from ‘hey, McDonalds is on them tonight’ to ‘this hobby is self-sustaining’, well, it’s a real thing and it’s swell. Which is great, because you don’t want to see me awkwardly positioned between a shelf of games and the best Amazon reviewed cheapo camera.
But everything’s not peaches and cream. Editors, style guides, and mission statements are great, for the most part. Player Elimination is for that other part.
At times it can feel as though you’re hamstrung, not able to write a specific way or in a specific style. It can feel as though you’re trying to speak with a mouthful of sand, perhaps trying to rain glorious syncopated beats from the heavens and someone’s telling you to use your inside voice.
Don’t read me wrong – I appreciate each and every place I write for. I put a lot of work into my pieces and my editors are all much smarter people than I could ever hope to be. But a chicken’s a chicken and it’d rather be free range than all cooped up.
So I’ve decided to do some writing for myself. And for you.
This here is a proclamation to deliver content at Player Elimination every single week. An article that may be some kind of review (although not a “review” review), maybe just some ramblings on a table top subject, perhaps just a bit of news. Part of the fun is in seeing your child grow in ways you couldn’t have imagined.
Why ‘Player Elimination’?
Player elimination, the mechanism, is a sticky subject. Antiquated as a dinosaur, some say. Like any mechanism, I believe it can be properly implemented and it has its own special time and place. To some degree, they also don’t make ’em like they used to.
This weekly column will tackle sticky subjects. I may be old and dated but I have a place dammit, and it’s here, rambling, like a man that’s mad.
It’s also the only name that wasn’t already taken.
So Player Elimination it is. Anything is better than another brand with meeple in the title. Ugh.
The nebbish ideology.
So let’s get real for a moment. For the first post of this weekly editorial I want to take an introspective glare at the philosophy behind my writing. I want you to understand how I approach a game, where my critique comes from, and perhaps justify the time we’re both sinking into this relationship.
First and foremost, I’m an experiential reviewer. Oh, and by the way, I am a reviewer (or critic as I’d prefer). There’s a movement to get away from that designation by some of the big media in the industry. I’m not afraid of that word and the baggage it contains.
But yes, experiential. By that I mean that I approach my writing from an angle of what it feels like to play a game. I don’t care one whit about teaching you how to play a design or conveying rules information in one of my articles, at least beyond the necessary context to elucidate a point. Yes, I leave information out, on purpose.
Describing what a game feels like is a difficult task. This is why you don’t see the bulk of reviewers adopting this approach. You have to analyze and evaluate from an emotional level. You have to contemplate a game’s position as a piece of culture. You need to distill a complex and sometimes bewildering social experience into words, hopefully ones that read beautifully and fire up your imagination.
The types of games I enjoy are full of emotion and drama, which is exactly how I approach transferring the experience to paper. I yearn for releases that stir my cold dead heart and get my blood pumping. When a game accomplishes that, I want to convey this through words and put you in that warm seat I was occupying.
And when a game fails to come through on its promise I want to encapsulate the anguish or apathy engendered. Nailing the highs and the lows can be difficult, but that doesn’t change the fact it’s a reviewer’s job. Tell it like it is and let the chips fall where they may.
Sometimes I get lost in my own writing and emotions and go too far. I’m constantly trying to evolve as a writer and critic, and like a purposeful adventure, it’s a journey. I will continue to grow and I hope you stick by my side.
Enough of this nonsense, I want an objective review.
Oh boy. Objective is something I will not be. A critic’s entire purpose is to offer evaluative commentary on a particular thing, whether that’s a film or a piece of music or a collection of card board we’re hunched over at the table. An objective review does not exist. It just doesn’t.
Because these words and emotions are subjective, sometimes we make mistakes. I aligned myself early on with the notion that I would not review a game before reaching at least three plays. Ideally I’d reach many more, although that’s not often practical.
One revealing psychological quirk I have is that it gives me dread whenever someone reads one of my articles and then responds with excitement exclaiming – “added to my list!” or “thanks for the recommendation, just bought it [now my family will need to eat tuna for a week you sod].” Leading people to quality titles is an enjoyable byproduct of this thing we do, but hearing someone purchased a game I recommended and then was disappointed is a bit like pissing yourself in front of the school.
Progress is forward and I hope to offer you much more in the coming weeks and months and maybe even years. My hope with this editorial work is to discuss games and particularly how they make us feel. The emotion and drama involved, not the weight of the box, quality of the components, or every little rule that you can already find in a book written by a professional. I want to delve into what makes a game work, whether it comes through on its promise and what it hopes to achieve. I want to talk about the play that happens above the table, the fire behind our eyes and the acid flying from our tongues. We don’t play games of little shaped cardboard and plastic, but games of big immature boys and girls talking trash and hurling spitfire.
One thing I won’t be kicking anytime soon is my enthusiasm for the hobby and for great games. Great games like Cyclades and Rising Sun and Earth Reborn and Tigris & Euphrates and even Happy Salmon. I’ve managed to avoid burnout thanks to a commitment from many designers to pursue innovation and creativity that continually sparks my imagination.
More of that, please.
See you next Monday.