The 2015 Short List
Ellison’s Embed With… series globetrots the gonzo-lite journalism of a Parts Unknown episode around a central axis of videogames, capturing local scenes with writing’s equivalent of a wide angle lens. Ellison shows herself here to be an inquisitive and wistful observer of culture, restoring to games their sense of place that’s been missing since the arcade’s decline.
See: Embed With…Singapore
Bois has shown a unique flair for finding humor and pathos (and a deep well of existential horror) in the expressions and flounderings of athletes’ digital likenesses. It wouldn’t have been unreasonable to expect that formula to wear thin in another season of his flagship series, Breaking Madden. But Bois answered that challenge by mining even deeper into the game’s subsystems, and surfacing with stories worth the effort.
See: Breaking Madden: I Open Up My Wallet And It’s Full of Blood
Any listener of This American Life should feel right at home with Danskin’s meticulous presentation. It’s certainly on display in his comprehensive explainer Why Are You So Angry, but the catchall style proves well-suited to Danskin’s diverse areas of inquiry and criticism–making a discussion of cultivation theory as digestible as a discussion of Call of Duty.
What a game actually purports to be about is only one narrow band in the spectrum of its own meaning. Partin’s sprawling review of Prison Architect refuses to restrict itself to the former, and—as is proving typical for his criticism—instead spreads out to interpret in expert fashion the various subtexts, symbols, and histories coded into a little game about incarceration.
ESports Today has kept stride with a surging competitive gaming scene—no easy task—and it’s doubly impressive that Zacny (with cohost Andrew Groen) has managed to do so while maintaining a benchmark tone that’s both eminently listenable and approachable for those outside of eSports. Zacny also shares duties on the more pensive strategy game podcast Three Moves Ahead, one of the best weekly deep-dives available in audio.
See: ESports Today
Petit has become one of the most proficient practitioners of what Kieron Gillen called the “New Games Journalism,” sourcing inspiration from introspection, and using a sturdy sense of self as a foundation for critical arguments. Few writers have made such compelling cases for videogames’ ability to be personally affecting.
See: The Game is not Yours: Thoughts on The Beginner’s Guide
Donlan may be one of the rare critics whose name, appended to a verdict but otherwise bereft of any other context, could have value. But instead he treats his writing like a roguelike, where the attention and respect of his audience must be earned anew at the start of each piece. He frequently begins with a bracing in medias res—in gaming parlance, a sort of randomized spawn. But the path of his text reliably leads to a worthy destination.
See: 80 Days Review
Next Page: The 2016 Short List