New Wave Goodbye
May 29, 2015 12:21 AM   Subscribe

'New Wave Games Journalist' and frequent Guardian and Rock Paper Shotgun columnist Cara Ellison is leaving games journalism, and she lays out her reasons in an essay on her site. Some of her best-known writing includes her S.EXE series about sex in a games for Rock Paper Shotgun, a verse review of an Anna Anthropy game for The Guardian, the Embed With Games series and a heartfelt tribute to indie game maker Increpare.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants (26 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

every few weeks i think about how much better games journalism would be if we still had kireon gillen. in five years i will be thinking the same about cara.
posted by JimBennett at 12:53 AM on May 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

Really enjoyed this, Cara is a gift. Apologies if I missed it in the essay, but does anyone have a clear idea of what she's going on to do?
posted by ominous_paws at 1:44 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Her Twitter (linked on the About page of her site) says "I got a job making games".
posted by zompist at 2:57 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Game narrative design, apparently. No idea who for.
posted by Hobo at 3:09 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

I bet she's gonna make some cool stuff, especially if Gillen is any example. (Games journalism can't have him back. Comics needs him.)
posted by NoraReed at 3:39 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

well, i'll just say, if kireon were writing for games i wouldn't mourn the loss nearly as much. he's a great thinker, i'm sure his comics are great, and (most of all!) i'm glad he's happy, but the medium just doesn't interest me. there are few people with such clarity of thought about Videogames.
posted by JimBennett at 3:54 AM on May 29, 2015

Big loss to games journalism, but I'm looking forward to whatever she does next.
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 3:56 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

shes one of the big reasons i have a career (seriously.) wish her the absolute best in her new endeavors. shes been wanting to be on the creative side for a while, so hope thats the direction shes going.
posted by young_son at 4:50 AM on May 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

I hope the games she makes are as inpsiring and entertaining as her words about them.
posted by Foosnark at 4:54 AM on May 29, 2015

Interesting essay. Hope she ends up working on something with the potential for social and cultural significance; that's what she wants, and she's got the guts to try.

I'm still unsure whether the medium of games has the same potential there as written fiction or narrative film (or their strangely mutated offspring, comics). Games involve doing stuff and getting better at it, and that's a different driver from becoming involved in a story through recognition, empathy and surprise. Many connections and cross-overs, of course, but games seem closer to me to sport and organised competitive non-video games like chess or poker - which can have plenty of significance outside the mechanics of doing them, but mostly when they become spectator events.

Gaming is doing, and that is a constraint no established art form requires for appreciation. Creation and performance have many pleasures, but it's hard to transfix someone while demanding a physical activity from them. Dance music, perhaps, and perhaps that's where all music comes from, but unlike dance music gaming makes no sense off its own dance floor.

So, I'll bet that whatever Ellison does next, she ends up writing books. She's looking to find and tell stories that matter to her, and gaming hasn't got there yet. I'm not sure it will.
posted by Devonian at 4:55 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

@Devonian - See Cara's own Sacrilege, which is beautiful in a very literary way, but still wouldn't have anything like the same impact in any other form than the one it's in.
posted by silence at 5:17 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Well, gaming journalism's loss. I find her an engaging and funny writer.

@ominous_paws I think she intends to get into the production design and writing side of games, a la Rhianna Pratchett.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:52 AM on May 29, 2015

I was going to say how sad it was that she's leaving, but a) she's still in games and still seems to love them, and b) her reasons for leaving make a lot of sense and it's hard to be selfish and say "I want her to continue writing about games" when it's clear she has bigger designs.

So congratulations, Cara Ellison. I'm sure whatever you end up doing next will be great.
posted by chrominance at 6:08 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

@Devonian - Gaming is taking it's time, but I truly believe it is the greatest leap since filmmaking in terms of possibility to evoke emotion. it is a different beast in many ways. the idea of "control" - other than the author's - is something no previous medium could ever contain. it adds a new dimension. the "doing" isn't a constraint, it's the entire foundation of the medium. in the same way that film is just ("just") hearing + sight, videogames are hearing + sight + FEEL. not touch necessarily, but feel is an interesting substitute for true touch, because it is brainier. the "doing" is what gives games the potential to transcend everything else, which is going to happen so slowly most people won't even notice. ideas of difficulty and repetition are holding back games that evoke more traditional emotion, but also allow for new ideas and emotional satisfaction.dark souls is as lovingly crafted and designed as many great novels. the brilliant thing about games is that the design space is large enough to encompass so many different things.

if you don't "get" games yet, you just haven't played the right ones. this is something i am 1000% certain of. there is a game for everyone out there. for me those games are shadow of the colossus, cave story, kentucky route zero, the world ends with you, iji, sword and sworcery, knytt, kingdom hearts 2, vvvvvv, SUPER MARIO WORLD, the chzo mythos, an untitled story, jumpman (2009), flywrench, radical fishing, super hexagon, team fortress 2, and more, so many many many more games that have touched me in some way. i don't know what my point is anymore except that games are wonderful, and there is a multitude of different ways they can be wonderful.
posted by JimBennett at 6:11 AM on May 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

That's a loss for games journalism, but onwards and upwards and all that! I look forwards to good things.
posted by Artw at 6:21 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd say that Sacrilege works because it is so literary. As I said, there are many cross-overs. Is a 'make your own adventure' book different from click-on-an-option interactive fiction/adventure on a screen? Sacrilege makes use of the rhythm and twists you can build from constrained, repeating options to good and apt effect, and that's a satisfying use of the medium, but you can do much the same in plain un-interactive words on a page.

I'm not saying that it is impossible to make things with gaming elements that don't stand comparison with stuff that doesn't; creative people can make great things out of all manner of material. Sacrilege is as good a short story as many established mainstream writers would be happy to create - personal, raw, witty, revelatory and engaging. It says something important about what it's like to be that person, at that time, in that place, and it says it well.

But it's right at the edge of what gaming is, a place that has been explored for pretty much as long as computers have been around, and I don't think it has much to say about unexplored potential in the medium. (Says much more about Ellison's potential, in any medium.)

I'm sure people like me were saying the same about popular music before the Beatles turned up. Reactionary old farts gonna fart. So yeah, I could and should, and very much hope I will be, wrong. Lots of talented people want to make it so.

(on review: @JimBennett - if anything, I've played too many games! But an enlarged universe of options does not automatically produce transcendence. Animation might seem to be the 'next stage' in film because it is, theoretically, unrestrained in what it can display, but in practise it's ended up as a sub-genre of moviemaking that is heavily constrained by the traditions and expectations of the medium. It can be brilliant and plenty of people are emotionally invested with it, yet would many claim it to have a unique cultural voice? Aesthetic aspects, yes, especially with anime and its ilk, and games have always had unique aesthetics, so perhaps there the constraints of repetition and interaction can produce something unique and otherwise impossible, but it hasn't happened yet. At least, not to me.)
posted by Devonian at 6:39 AM on May 29, 2015

Cara has in fact delved into written fiction already, with some great short stories for Yearbook Office. (Previously. Disclosure: my FPP.)

(And holy shit, Giant Bomb just hired Austin Walker! There was always lots of wishful thinking that Ellison would get hired at some point, but goddamn Austin Walker is just as good of a get.)
posted by kmz at 6:48 AM on May 29, 2015

i cannot agree that games have not produced something unique and otherwise impossible. even just as wish fulfillment, games are superior because most of the time they place the player directly into the shoes of the protagonist. dark souls alone, a game and series i am not particularly fond of, has a design that, when conquered, provides a sense of thrill and satisfaction unmatched by any film, ever.

if early films are just radio dramas + picture, then most triple a videogames until now are just films + rollercoasters. but "feel" encompasses so much more than just rollercoasters, and those are the spaces in game development that truly excite me.
posted by JimBennett at 7:07 AM on May 29, 2015

Devonian: Have you ever played Skyrim?
posted by I-baLL at 8:41 AM on May 29, 2015

Games are already great and (potentially) life-changing, and they've only just begun to explore what they can really do.

'Games' can be games, stories, art, or any combination of those, but that's obvious and is an argument that has been done to death. Games have taught me many things that I wouldn't have learned otherwise -- not least a thousand little mini-lessons about making and executing plans, managing processes and resources, and getting people to do things. I've done many times more teamwork in games than anywhere else. Many of the strongest communities I've clicked with have been game-related.

'Journey' taught me things about how I relate to people. 'Shadow of the Colossus' taught me things about how I pursue goals. 'Dark Souls' taught me things about perseverance. 'Killer 7' made me understand how a work can be loaded and woven with meaning and allusion on many different levels, and drove it home possibly more strongly than any one part of my English degree! 'Jet Set Radio' to paraphrase Scott Pilgrim, was one of the first things to make me realise that good music existed, and what 'cool' looked like. Many games have taught me various facts and parts of history that I wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise. Thinking/reading about how games are put together and how the industry works have taught me things about design and industry and creativity, expression, and art.

Games have made my heart beat hard in my chest in a way no other medium has. They've made me taut with fear, or yell in shock or triumph more than most other things. Few things have made me furrow my brow in thought and ponder a problem with the intensity and singularity that games have. Of the times I have gasped in delight, or stared at something because it was so beautiful, games have been responsible for quite a few of them. Games have let me experience a little of the joy of flight, and of many other types of movement I rarely/never get to experience otherwise.

Games are already great and (potentially) life-changing, and they've only just begun to explore what they can really do.
posted by Drexen at 9:07 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm glad she's moving on to something exciting, but this is a loss...I was annoyed when RPS removed their bylines on mobile browsers, because it meant that I would occasionally miss one of her pieces.
Hopefully she's right about the progress in games criticism.
posted by Kreiger at 1:55 PM on May 29, 2015

Around the same time I began to lose the time to play games (thanks life!), I discovered RPS, and found that it was very rewarding reading about games. Maybe not to the same extent that I plowed through books of Ebert reviews in lieu of watching movies, but nonetheless, hours of fun were had. And Cara was one of my favorites there. I still have her "Never Been Half-Lifed" diary bookmarked and revisit it periodically.

Her bit about PC Zone reminded me of my teenhood, reading every videogame magazine that I could lay hands on, and not really realizing yet that more could be done, writing about games. That more should be done, that four bloody thumbs up or whatever was not the pinnacle of games writing (nor fat books of cheats and strategies for Galaga). Reviews as guides for what to buy are inherently limited; their goal is a shopping list. But a review that places the game into a person's life, that talks about the effect...that elevates the game, the review, and the reader. And it's strange to think I didn't really encounter that kind of writing for decades after beginning to play games.

All of which is to say, I am glad to have encountered her work at RPS, I'm glad to see games journalism continuing to expand, and I'm glad she's finding something new to do!
posted by mittens at 6:37 PM on May 29, 2015

Around the same time I began to lose the time to play games (thanks life!), I discovered RPS, and found that it was very rewarding reading about games.
QFT. Rock, Paper, Shotgun is fantastic. As a console gamer with a four-year-old laptop, I find their articles are rarely about games I'm likely to play any time soon, but I always appreciate the depth they bring to their review copy. Ellison has been a big part of that for a long time, but even without her they've got a stable of talented writers.
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 10:44 AM on June 1, 2015

Drexen: You reminded me of how point-and-click adventure games taught me to be more social. It made me realize that I can just walk up and talk to people. I still don't do that often but if I ever need to be social then I just pretend that I'm in an adventure game and so I begin to explore the dialogue options around me.
posted by I-baLL at 3:02 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older Why isn't this a proper Disney series?   |   Skyping with the enemy Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments