An Exhausted Blogosphere

Last time we looked at the early period of the videogame blogosphere as Dan Golding’s blog post ‘Mapping the Brainysphere’ and I both saw it emerging, and we also looked at the forces of formation from an Actor Network Theory perspective. One of the things that ANT turns on its head is the idea of actor’s endurance – for Latour and his Actor Network Theory, it’s not change, decay or instability that is the phenomena in need of explaining, but instead it is endurance and stability of any actor or object that needs accounting for.

That said; let’s first look at the blogs from Dan Golding’s original list of 29 blogs and look at which ones have closed down. In other words, who has ‘left’ the blogosphere since Jan 1st, 2009?

Blogs from Mapping the Brainysphere that have either closed, abandoned or been semi-abandoned:

Graffiti Gamer
Elements of Meaning
Man Bytes Blog
Noble Carrots
The Autumnal City
Banana Pepper Martinis
Hit Self-Destruct
Versus Clu Clu Land
Game Culture Journal
The Game Critique
The New Gamer
Writers Cabal
Gamer Quest
8-bit Hacks
Ordinary Swords
Words on Play

More than half, in fact 21 of the 29 blogs Dan Golding identified in January of 2009 have been closed or effectively abandoned. With few exceptions these people have not gone away. Instead they’ve moved to twitter (and/or Facebook). Spencer Greenwood of Noble Carrots; Kirk Battles of Banana Pepper Martinis; The New Gamer writers; Sande Chen & Anne O’Toole of Writers Cabal; and the author of the GamesLaw blog are the only authors from this list to have left the blogosphere altogether. Most have merely migrated to one or other social media platform. More on that in a minute.

The above list, however, doesn’t include many of the other blogs which I would also include as important to the blogosphere at about the same time, and many of those blogs have closed down too. Here’s a second list of semi-abandoned or closed blogs, but of those that weren’t around or weren’t included in Dan Golding’s initial list:

Lyndon Warren’s Digital Kicks
Brilliam of Brill.iam Writes
Matthew Kaplan’s Game In Mind
DemonicMurry’s Graduate School Gamer
Chris Plante & co. HardCasual.Net
Manveer Heir’s Design Rampage
Michael Walbridge’s No More Gamers Anymore
Daniel Bullard-Bates and CT Hutt Press Pause to Reflect
David Sahlin Tracking the Nordic Ninja
Mike Schiller Unlimited Lives
Christopher Hyde’s 25timesasecond

All of these blogs have closed or been semi-abandoned. These two lists are hardly comprehensive, but it’s tempting to interpret the picture it paints as a bleak emptying of the blogosphere of some of its most talented contributors. But realistically, this is all quite natural and predictable. It takes considerable means and motivation to maintain a blog for multiple years and people change positions, careers and interests all the time. And yet, there seems to be another, hidden force at work behind this list – namely, twitter.

The first time I got an inkling that a change was taking place in the blogosphere, with the community mainly moving away from blogs and onto twitter,  was over a year ago. It was through a conversation that happened (where else) on twitter, initiated by Steve Gaynor. Gaynor, whose blog Fullbright closed just recently, tweeted to Michael Abbott a question about the state of the blogosphere. In reverse order, here is the series of tweets I uncovered from the vaults of twitter history that sparked the minor furore over the fate and direction of the critical videogame blogosphere.

The conversation that spun out from those few tweets happened as people saw the comments and variously agreed and disagreed, and discussed the factors influencing the blogosphere and its rate of production. It spun out into a multi-threaded conversation involving many twitter accounts, and it’s likely that no one was following all of them at once. Given the technical limitations of Twitter, reconstructing the whole of the conversation(s) is also a significant challenge.

One of the common themes that seemed to crop up in those discussions (and the subsequent discussions on the same topic that seem to flare up on twitter regularly) was that twitter seemed to have subsumed some of the role played by blogs in the early blogosphere. Most recently, Mitch Krpata tweeted at me on September 16th saying “Twitter is why nobody blogs anymore”. He was responding to a piece I wrote about the distasteful neologism ‘replayability’ and its crutch-like nature for games writers.

Mitch distilled the essence of my blog post into one tweet, and I was jokingly dismayed at his ability to do so. I tweeted, “Dammit Mitch, you just showed my post could have been a tweet.” And yet, it’s unlikely that a tweet would have provoked the same reaction from other blogs (including from Kotaku’s Steven Totillo and Game Theory Online’s Nadia Oxford) as the “Replayability is NOT a word, so stop using it idiot!” blog post. The change from blogs to twitter is significant. Something is lost or changed or translated when writers move from blog comment threads to twitter. I’m sure Marshall McLuhan would have something to say about all of this.

One of the things that I think results from the move to twitter is exhaustion. In a post on his Insult Swordfighting blog, Mitch Krpata discusses his feeling of being out of sync with the rest of the reviewing consensus on the latest Castlevania game. At the end of the post he mentions finding one review comforting for its similarity to his own. The comments on that particular review were apparently “of the “no offense but you’re an idiot” variety” and according to Krpata, re-open the age-old question, “…of what a game review is supposed to be.” But wasn’t that an issue that was supposed to be settled once and for all by Sean Elliot and co. with his Symposium? Yet the symposium ran out of steam (exhaustion perhaps?), people have moved on and the question goes unresolved until it resurfaces once more with the recurrence of a problematic review or score. It’s a situation to make even Sisyphus proud.

Twitter has reshaped the critical videogame blogosphere, there’s no doubt about that. It’s affected the blogosphere by draining away discussions from the blog posts and comment threads of websites dedicated to hosting the kinds of discussion that was such a hallmark of the early community. It’s also changed the nature of those discussions, by fragmenting them and making them quite temporally fleeting. And lastly, perhaps most importantly, it’s done exactly what we wanted to have happen – it’s opened up the critical videogame blogosphere to just about anyone.

The old adage of ‘careful what you wish for’ applies here, as the cumulative effects of these three pressures has, for better or for worse, killed off much of the sense of a small, tight-knit community that existed in the ‘early days’ of the videogame blogosphere (and I’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t a particularly diverse or representative community, but it was quite a close one).

I’ll end on a note of difference between blogs and twitter: One can still go back to posts on blogs from 08 or even 07 and look through the comment threads and that’s increasingly difficult on twitter. At the end of 2009 I attempted a personal archaeology of all the comments I left on the Brainy Gamer blog in 2007 and 2008, and the most interesting aspect of that exercise was realising that all the discussions are still there. Just take a look at the sheer length of comments on this blog post titled ‘We need new stories’ – the length of the comments thread exceeds that of  the post by a whole order of magnitude! That does not and cannot occur on twitter. And even if it did, who but those who were there at the time to see it would know about it? Twitter has been a double edged sword, but figuring out whether the benefits have outweighed the drawbacks is a chimerical task – perhaps even an impossible one. I’d still like to try and approach that goal, however, in my PhD.

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