Wednesday, 17 February 2010

SLRC is dead! Long live SLRC!

At 2:39am on January 26th, SLRC died. (tl;rd - New blog/website here.)

SLRC knew it had died because a number of things tipped it off. Primarily, the reasons for its existence at the time of its inception were no longer applicable. The spirit of the thing had departed it. For the benefit of any readers who joined since, say, the start of 2009, SLRC started life as a place to write about music and sound and videogames. And also as a place to write specifically about the videogames I personally was interested in; games like System Shock 2, which at the time of writing in November 07, I felt had not received its share of critical attention in the critical-games blogosphere.

A lot of that naturally had much more to do with my lack of breadth in reading and awareness of the field than it did any failing on the part of the community. To get an idea of how much has been written about even SS2, before and since SLRC started, check out the results for a quick search on Simon Ferrari’s Game Blog search engine, or on Michel McBride’s own variation on the same (they’re both great resources, by the way, and deserve more attention and use than they seem to have attracted so far). SLRC seems to have both naturally and productively drifted away from these early aims and morphed into something completely different.

And that was the first tip-off that it was perhaps time to retire the old blog, coming as it did late last year. The second came just as subtly but much more recently as a growing malaise and uncertainty about videogames blogging qua blogging. I’ve been reading Geert Lovink’s ‘Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture’ these past few weeks and in his opening chapter he positions blogging as a ‘creative nihilism’. I’m finding that thought increasingly attractive and pertinent the more time I spend with it.

As bloggers and technology-using types, we like to imagine that technology is meaning agnostic, that it’s whatever we make of it that counts, or more importantly that we are in charge of what we make of it. But the truth is less certain. It is becoming increasingly obvious that technology imposes its own logic, its own way of doing things, and that can both resist as well as reinforce hegemony. As Lovink says,

“Blogs fix the social in a specific manner. These techno-fixes are not neutral; they reflect the broader cultural atmosphere of our time.” (p.2)

On a similar note, Danah Boyd has spent a number of years researching the different ways that online social technology interacts with real-world societies. In her case it was American teens and how MySpace/Facebook, etc divided along class lines.

So blogging is not a medium devoid of cultural and social baggage. Things that a given site allows for, like reader comments, ‘fix the social in a specific manner’ as it were. We tend to say that blogging is a ‘democratising’ force and celebrate the way it empowers people who have something to say, but we pay less attention to the attendant downside which is, as Lovink points out, that;

“as much as democratization means engaged citizens, it also implies normalization (as in the setting of norms) and banalization. We can’t separate these elements and only enjoy the interesting bits.” (p.4)

So whether we like it or not, and whether it is intentional or not, blogging changes things. Michael Walbridge wrote recently about his own first hand experience with the world of games journalism post-these changes – i.e. “making it” as a videogame journalist is not only increasingly hard, but it’s also looking more and more like a mugs game. There’s just no money in it, and the fact of the matter is that when people as brilliant and talented as Michael Abbott, or David Carlton, or LB Jeffries, or Wes Erdelak are all willing to give away their stuff online for free why would anyone pay for it? Heck, if Tom Bissell can’t make a buck at games journalism now that Crispy Gamer has folded what hope is there for the rest of us? As numerous influential people have piped up to say in the comments to Michael Walbridge’s piece, the field is getting overcrowded. In the final tally, blogging and, by inference, us lot are complicit in bringing about the demise of print journalism and old media structures (hooray!) with a million bleeding cuts in the form of our brilliant blog posts.

But this is by no means the only (or even the major) reason that I’m not going to ‘blog’ anymore in the way I have been doing at SLRC for the past two years and five months. The practical differences in what I’m changing may be relatively minor, but I feel like they are a gesture that should be made nontheless. They are encompassed tidily by this speculation by Lovink, who suggests that when blogs have reached their peak and subsided,

“most likely the social aspect of blogs will be phased out and developed elsewhere into other products, leaving blogs to perform the introspective duty of the online diary.” (p.29)

Hello Facebook!, Hello Twitter!, my new friends. We are enjoying our new time together, and I’d invite you to join us – friend me on Facebook and gain regular access to all the strange and wonderful links I pull from all across the internet with my network tendrils. Or catch up on them via RSS if that’s still your thing (it’s becoming less and less mine – there’s just too much stuff). Unless you’re one of the few established videogame blogs (Hi Michael Abbott! Hi Mitch Krpata! Hi Corvus Elrod! You guys are seriously wonderful) trying to build a big and thoughtful community on a new site it feels like a folly similar to the abovementioned breaking into games journalism. And why would I even need to bother trying when I've got Facebook and twitter right here already? What’s to stop you from using Facebook as a blog? I seriously considered it but decided that I'd have to compromise a bit too much of my personal information (pictures, statuses, etc) to make it worthwhile, but everyday it seems there are new and excitingly customisable privacy settings.

I also find a lot of value and not an insignificant amount of personal satisfaction in posting links on Facebook, not least of all because I’ve gained something of a reputation amongst friends as always posting quality links, but because very nearly everyone I know and whose opinion I care about is on Facebook already. It's also very convenient and works just like a blog with an archive for links and the aforementioned RSS feed and everything.

So my blogging is becoming more like diary keeping, and Facebook/Twitter are taking over the social aspect of the equation. Obviously, as a writer I am compelled to keep writing things, but SLRC is no longer the place for them.

The important question now becomes what, or more importantly where, is this new blog I’ve been keeping for stuff that doesn't go to Twitter/Facebook? Right now it’s located at and I’ve been writing there for much of February 2010 already. Unlike SLRC it’s not restricted to publishing important essays or creative stories, etc, etc and is more ordinary, like an diary, and more flexible in subject matter – I also plan on using it to store up and write-out ideas for my PhD research (which I’m already super excited about doing by the way).

In the past, I’ve always gotten a lot of the mileage out of being able to write out related tangents and seeing where they lead, but SLRC was never the place for that. Exploring tangents and experimental connections are, for me at least, a useful strategy for getting at The New. One of the very first things impressed upon our cohort at the start of honours research in 2008 was that you simply cannot predict where The New is or where you’ll find it in your research. Which may sound trite and obvious to some, but could also be completely backwards and counterintuitive to others. I think that it’s almost certainly not such an obvious fact given that so much of our society and our collective time is spent rehashing, renewing, refocussing and refining pre-existing ideas. I guess that’s a reasonably successful strategy, but it seems to only get us so far. After all, if we knew where to find The New or if it were completely mapped out, it wouldn’t really be New anymore would it?

All that aside, in keeping with the phasing out of social aspects as mentioned by Lovink, ben abraham dot net doesn’t allow comments. As allude to above, I’m not out to build a community, but just to keep a diary. Doing away with the now ubiquitous “add a comment” feature is just another way to “fix the social in a specific manner”, and in this case do something to push-back against the author-reader-commenter relationships established by blogs as the De Facto operating mode for the internet. If you’re after the social, join Facebook, join twitter and you’ll find me easy enough. If you want to read the online diary, go have a look and maybe get the RSS or catch up infrequently whenever you remember to load up the site. Since it’s becoming my go-to place for my writing, I'll probably write my GDC trip in March there. The new format should be conducive to some good stuff.

I will leave SLRC with a last line from Byron that I read in a great book recently. See you around.

-- Ben Abraham, 17th February, 2009.

Fare thee well! and if for ever,
Still for ever, fare thee well.