VGDC: Kyle Orland's 'All Time Greats' picks

Well thought-out game article/video choices from the Ars Technica editor.

[Hey, Simon here! So, some of you may remember that I was experimenting with a paid subscription layer to Video Game Deep Cuts. And many, many thanks to those who signed up. But for a couple of reasons, not least that the guest posts were SO good & needed to be shared more, I decided to pause paid sub signups & give that content to the full VGDC email list.

So in the first one (these will be running every 2 weeks, mid-week), we called up Kyle Orland. He’s a long-time game journalist and ‘ombudsman’ & currently at Ars Technica, & he picked his favorite game-related articles & videos of all time for us, hurray!]

[Photo credit of Billy Mitchell: John Pacheco. Courtesy of EGM.]

I’ve been obsessively following (and working in) the gaming press for over two decades now, to the point where I wrote an entire book analyzing the space. But when Simon asked me to pick out the most “notable and great (ideally longform-ish or otherwise well considered) pieces of video or journalism about game culture, game design, etc.,” I found the task was surprisingly tough.

So much of what we do in the “game journalism” industry is so disposable as to be utterly forgettable a week later. Even many of the industry’s best long form features and interviews are tied to previews of games that are quite literally yesterday’s news the day after they launch.

Here, then, is a selection of those rare pieces that I find myself still thinking about or referencing months or years later, for one reason or another:

Writing

The stuff about magazines vs “lower quality” upstart Internet writers seems a bit quaint now. But the call for journalists to focus on the players and the play experience itself, rather than the mechanics of the game’s construction, was equal parts prescient and influential on the form. Over 15 years later, Gillen’s request that we be “Travel journalists to imaginary places” has stuck with me.

This one meant a lot to me, personally, coming as it did near the beginning of my career as a self-appointed game journalism watchdog. To see the editor of one of the biggest magazines out there call out the entire industry for shady ethical practices was a watershed moment in the transition from the “game magazines as glorified advertisements” era to the more freewheeling, irreverent blogging era to come.

When an interview starts with the question “Do you think that you’re a pathological liar?” you know it’s going to be confrontational. But what might be most surprising about Rock Paper Shotgun’s interview with Peter Molyneux is that the question, while a little rude, isn’t completely unwarranted. Through unflinching use of meticulous research and evidence of broken promises, John Walker gives Molyneux just enough rope to hang himself. This interview was the capper to a publicity tour so bad that Molyneux promised to “withdraw completely from the press,” a promise he was only able to keep for a year.

When most people picture Journalism-with-a-capital-J, they think of All The President’s Men-style investigative work where anonymous sources use public pressure to affect major structural change. The vast majority of video game journalism is decidedly not that. So when a piece like this comes along that leads directly to a $10 million class-action lawsuit settlement and reports of real change at a corporate level, it’s definitely notable.

Billy Mitchell doesn’t give interviews, and he’ll be the first person to tell you that if you ask him for one. But he did speak to EGM’s Josh Harmon as part of an effort to restore his name, which has been tarnished by a cheating scandal that has cost him world record recognition with both Guinness World Records and the Twin Galaxies Video Game Scoreboard. Harmon uses his rare access to paint a skeptical but well-rounded picture of a complicated subject that should serve as a textbook lesson for how to write an interesting profile.

Videos

What started as an effort to beat Super Mario 64 with as few presses of the A button as possible eventually led to a surprisingly fascinating discussion of increasingly esoteric glitches and exploits in this incredibly buggy piece of early N64 software. You wouldn’t think such a discussion would remain interesting for a full 24 minutes, but I’ll be damned if the deep dive into N64 memory mapping, binary numbering systems, and “parallel universes” didn’t keep me captivated the entire time.

In a gaming video landscape where kids screaming curse words while failing at video games is the standard, Brian Gilbert’s work stands out for bringing equal amounts of fun and professionalism. This live, lively performance of a new and improved Pokerap from the PAX East stage is a singular achievement; a fun, deep, intense, incredible one-man show that serves as a high water mark for pure showmanship in the space.

There are plenty of reviews I’ve come away from thinking “I don’t agree with that take, but I understand it.” But it’s rare to encounter a piece of video game criticism like this one, which made me completely re-evaluate my time with a game. This half-hour consideration of The Witness makes deep use of research into the game’s influences and techniques, both overt and subtle, to add critical context that most players probably completely missed on a casual playthrough. I still think about this piece years later, which is something I can’t say about very many pieces of gaming criticism.

Pushing a video game simulation to its ridiculous limits is a “Why didn’t I think of that” simple idea that plenty of YouTubers have taken up for plenty of genres. But Jon Bois’ work sets itself apart with impeccable execution that’s equal parts ironically overwrought and knowingly aware of just how ridiculous it is. Seeing these games buckle and break under the weight of Bois’ machinations is like staring deep into an abyss where game programmers’ best-laid plans go to die.

This two-hour segment of various arcade Tetris games is one of the best demonstrations of pure video game skill I’ve ever seen, even amid a charity marathon that makes incredible video game performances routine. But this particular video gets a place on this list because the live commentary serves as an entertaining and easy-to-follow introduction to the state of high-level play in one of the best games of all time. Whether you’re a beginner or already an expert, watching this will make you want to get better at Tetris.