After publishing the first issue of his video game magazine, The Gamer's Quarter, a satisfied Matt Williamson kicked back and ... watched in disbelief as negative criticism came piling in.
Williamson, 24 — the kind of hardcore gamer whose voice-mail greeting isn't a "hello" but an exhortation to "use your Neo Geo Pocket Color [video game system] more frequently" — launched the free downloadable publication in March. It was the gaming magazine of his dreams — one whose writers didn't dissect video games by rating their graphics, sound and gameplay; a magazine that didn't feel like it was processed through a formula or solely focused on telling gamers what to buy.
"I wanted something else out there than something that would read like a press release or the back of a box," he said last week as he put the finishing touches on the magazine's latest quarterly issue, now available on GamersQuarter.com.
He thought he'd achieved his goal. The first issue bore little resemblance to the field's leading magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly and Game Informer. It boasted eclectic variety, exploring the post-modern nature of "Metal Gear Solid 2," the dubious connections between the cult favorite "Katamari Damacy" and communism, and the little things that made the best "Sonic" games fun.
The magazine went live, and on Slashdot, the ultimate technology enthusiast's Web site ("News for Nerds" is the tagline), the initial response was stridently negative. "I didn't expect to get told to stay away from my hobby," said Williamson.
What Williamson was hoping for, however modestly, was a minor rebellion in video-games journalism, something a growing number of gaming fans and writers have been clamoring for across the Web. For many it started with a 2004 manifesto by gaming journalist Kieron Gillen that called for a "new games journalism," a style of writing about video games that would be based less on a description of the innards of a game than on the experience of someone playing it.
The movement has been controversial. A fierce backlash this spring slammed new games journalism as little more than self-indulgence. An "anti-manifesto" on the Web site UKResistance.co.uk proclaimed, "The writer is not the most important person."
Williamson's magazine has been lumped into the NGJ movement despite his protestations that he was never a part of it. His motivation to try something different was more personal.
For four years, he'd tried to write for major gaming magazines and Web sites, but he said he was stymied by the frequently scathing opinions he expressed about games he didn't like, his disdain for applying numerical scores to game reviews — and because his grammar was the pits.
Then he found an article on the Web site InsertCredit.com by writer Brandon Sheffield. "He wrote one article that really connected with me," Williamson said. "It was basically how he took a summer and took his old video game consoles out and played them to death." The article focused less on games than on the experience of them. "I enjoyed that article more than the last 20 issues of EGM."
Suddenly he had less interest in joining the big gaming magazines than in beating them. Williamson rounded up whatever like-minded souls who he could find on the Web for The Gamer's Quarter's first issue, which went live two months late. The backlash shook his confidence, but the issue was downloaded 3,000 times in three days, which Williamson took as at least a tiny vote of support.
Now Williamson and his team of unpaid volunteers have produced a second, bigger issue. It includes an article from a gamer who grew up in Russia, who describes how he fell for gaming with the help of an uncle who brought back games from the U.S.: "When my uncle returned, I made sure to act excited to see him and not the game, though we tacitly realized that neither of us gave much a damn about each other's lives. He was a wise one, my uncle, even if he did wear sandal shoes and beat his German shepherd when drunk." Another piece chronicles the emotions of experiencing warfare in the game "Steel Battalion." The final article simply asks, "What's it all for?"
Williamson remembers a recent gaming magazine in which the editors looked at reviews from their magazine's early years. They were trying to explain why they had given a game, now thought of as bad, a high score. "I don't want it to happen with The Gamer's Quarter," he said. "Eternal is not the greatest word, but hopefully 10 years down the road it will still hold up."