First anniversary: What we’ve learned

For Higher Level Gamer’s one year anniversary, I thought we’d share what we learned while writing for HLG this past year. So, what follows is the result of us sharing what we’ve learned in a google document dialogue for the past month.

Confidence.

Laquana:  It is truly liberating to find your “voice” within the debris of academia.

Gaines: Blogging the past year has helped me improve my own academic writing style tremendously. It’s a little strange to me because I don’t know what about the wordpress platform, or the idea of writing for a wordpress platform, prompts me to write a more readerly text than I used to.

Candice: I struggled, especially for my first post, to find an idea that would be “worthy” to write about. I kept going back to the drawing board after having an “aha!” moment, start writing, and then second guessing myself. It was really hard to convince myself that the way to discover/uncover valuable ideas is to write– a lot– and create a conversation within the community around important insights or discourses.

Erik: All of us here at Higher Level Gamer are trained as academics, and that’s highly reflected in how/what we’ve written. Like Gaines, I’ve learned that it’s acceptable to not always follow that particular mold. In fact, it’s often highly enjoyable not to follow it! It seems that the more I write, the more I enjoy just telling stories (or stories with a purpose) as opposed to trying to deliberately construct an academic argument.

Stephanie: I’ve always had a tough time with second-guessing myself when it comes to writing. And that’s especially the case when it comes to writing of this sort: writing that will be public, seen by anyone, possibly commented on, tweeted, linked who-knows-where. I spend far too much time wondering if my ideas are sound–or ridiculous, or flawed, or have already been written about before. It takes a ton of confidence to publish anything publicly; and even more to recognize that your writing is always going to be imperfect and open to criticism. But that’s something I’ve definitely learned to better accept.

Weekly content is hard.

Gaines: Holy shit, if you knew how many politely plaintive emails I’ve sent to the rest of the authors trying to set up weekly content posts. We’re all Academics in one stage or another, and video games play a different role in each author’s work. It means we’re writing at Higher Level Gamer as a more-or-less part-time (unpaid) job and providing weekly content is hard. It takes a lot of work to make a post once a week, and I have nothing but admiration for folks who can churn out a well-written post every week.

Candice: With my track record of a blog post every six months, I can’t really comment… other than to say, “Sorry Gaines!”

Erik: For several weeks, Gaines and I turned out weekly (or twice weekly given that there were two of us at the start) posts, and that was probably instrumental in helping Higher Level Gamer gain an audience. However, we were unable to keep up that tempo. Personally, I’m still struggling with the transformation that happens when you move from “academic writer” to “blogger” to “academic blogger.” I’m still learning that it’s okay to write a few hundred words about my thoughts on a single game.

Nick: I am writing this the day that it is being put up, exactly a full month and a day after Gaines originally set up the Google document and sent it out to all of the writers. The problem that I’ve often had with writing constantly is that I have short bursts of ideas and then long periods of silence ( a problem I’ve had with blogging for much longer than this site’s existence). Hopefully I can figure out the key to consistent writing at some point.

The bigger problem, though, is my inability to finish off ideas. Maybe three or four months ago I started organizing my writing and publication files differently by creating a new file for the purpose of every piece I was writing (I was wiring with a bit more consistency). Going through that now, I can see four posts that never really materialized for me. There’s a few problems that I think have caused this. One, the whole academic culture is one where we’re often dissuaded from sharing things we ourselves deem imperfect – even though many of us don’t believe in a perfect, capital-T Truth. Two, sometimes I start something and just have trouble getting it from Tweet-sized to blog-sized. Three, we aren’t making any money off of this, making it all much easier to push off for a few days/weeks/months (Gaines, I swear I’ll finish that post about Destiny’s balancing and redistribution of power at some point).

Stephanie: Like Nick, I’m writing this at the last minute—but unlike Nick, I’m writing it three days after it was supposed to be posted, after Gaines had to repeatedly remind me to actually do something. Oops.

Nick already mentioned a lot of what I have trouble with, but I guess I’ll add that the daily life of being a graduate student really gets in the way. Taking classes means a constant barrage of reading, assignments, midterm papers, so on. The nonstop homework gets prioritized—with time squeezed in to provide for basic needs like sleep, to actually have a social life, and to maybe have some time to play a video game at the end of the day. Where does blogging fit into this? Often it doesn’t.

It takes a real effort and a lot of self-discipline to make myself sit down and write up a blog post (especially given other factors already mentioned like self-doubt, striving for perfection, etc.). Unless I can, like, build a blog-writing assignment into my independent study so that it then becomes another homework assignment. Which I’ve actually tried to do this semester.

Writing for a broad audience is more than just word choice.

Gaines: I’ve noticed that the way I set-up the format, the way I use images, and the way I structure paragraphs is different for HLG than it is in my own dissertation writing.

Candice: For me, writing to a broad audience was mostly about adding more paragraphs as a way to visually connect a logic chain– each indentation is another step from my introduction to the ultimate conclusion. That approach is much more straight forward than academic writing tends to be.

Erik: By and large, I’ve treated a blog page the same way I’ve treated a word processor page. With the exception of a few posts, I’ve largely failed to take advantage of the multimedia capabilities that a platform such as this allows. Before writing on this blog, I was invited to write about my work on a few well-established blogs. Comparing those posts to the ones I make here, I notice that I made a much better use of images on those ones. I don’t necessarily mean that every post needs to be a visual collage, but it does make me wonder why I haven’t been using images more than I have.

Stephanie: But, at the same time, it’s also still a lot about word choice. I’m working on finding a voice and style as both an academic writer and as a blogger. And toggling between the two means shutting off (or modifying) one voice and turning on another. Writing for a broad audience is much, much different than writing for an academic one, so blogging is often an exercise in experimentation for me in how to write in a clear, accessible, open, and not-so-academic sort of way. I feel like I’m always in a state of practicing how to write.

Good rants are hard to write.

Gaines: I wrote some rants at the very beginning of HLG. And, now I hate most of them. I expected rants to be a genre of blog writing that anyone could do, provided that one has some passion, a sharp tongue, and something loathsome to talk about. That’s not the case. The well-done rant has to stay on topic (while staying passionate), tackle multiple propositions to support a judgment (while flowing smoothly), and mix good writing with angry, self-righteous writing. What’s more, you have the be the kind of writer who, even when angry, is not going to write something you’ll later regret. That’s probably what bothers me most about my rants, I neither enjoy nor agree with most of them now–I don’t do angry, and I privilege nuance in my own writing. Rants are not a genre that I can manage as a writer.

Candice: This might not be the right category for this, but I actually avoided writing rants because of my position as a woman. I felt like that sort of tone and usually controversial topic would be putting myself in too vulnerable of a space, especially not knowing who will read it and reply. I know many women are currently getting blowback from “gamergate” for pieces and writing they posted/ published months or even years ago, and it is just now leading to harassment.

Erik: I think it’s all a question of finding one’s niche (or more broadly, what one enjoys writing about). I use to feel guilty about not writing reviews, or not responding in a more timely matter to a particularly hot topic. However, I’ve learned that I quite enjoy telling stories, or exploring some particular historical aspects of gaming, so I’ve concentrated my attention towards those areas. I’m still learning, so one day I might branch out in other genres.

Nick: Gaines might not do angry, but I certainly do. I think anger is a solid emotion: it’s an expressive emotion, allows for tons of cursing, and can be quite cathartic. However, the sustained rant seems like a waste of time for my anger. That’s what makes rants so hard for me and why I rarely write them. I’d much rather throw up a ‘fuck you [insert tiny thing that I’m atypically angry about]’ tweet than write a hundred words on why this thing makes me angry. I’m sure many people can do rants well, and good on them, but I think it requires a sustained and consciously reflexive anger. I’m sure it is much healthier than my own brand.

Stephanie: I haven’t actually written a rant yet…I’ve thought about it on occasion, but just haven’t gotten around to it. I guess I’ve learned that it’s something I should try sometime?

The video game criticism community’s got as many cliques as any other community.

Gaines: I suspected the community has cliques after a few months of reading Critical Distance and following authors on twitter. I think Samantha Allen’s Critical Proximity talk nailed this community dynamic down. But, I keep thinking of Stephen Beirne’s tweets about getting new writers involved. I think finding a comfortable middle ground between a healthy community and a welcoming community is daily work–hard daily work.

Thank you, readers and Critical Distance. I think I can speak for all of the authors here: Having a welcoming and critical audience and receiving occasional recognition in Critical Distance has been very encouraging.

Avoiding your filler words in podcasts is, uhm, harder than it sounds.

Gaines: When we first hatched the idea to start the Always in Alpha podcast, we were drunk at one of our usual haunts and had just enjoyed an excellent, several hour long conversation about video games. When I sat down to edit our first podcast, I realized making good podcasts is a pain in the ass. As I cut some 100 of my filler-words-of-choice–”uhm”–it reminded me On The Media’s “Pulling back the curtain” except they’re doing real editing, and I’m just removing filler words. It was miserable. I can only imagine that all of the podcasters I listen to regularly have trained themselves to not use filler words. I’m, uhm, not sure I could, uh, do that… ever.

Candice: I hate listening to myself talk, so I am glad I didn’t land editor duties for the first podcast. It was bad enough listening to the final cut just once.

Nick: If I remember correctly, I didn’t have as big as a problem when it came to repeating words. My problem was not thinking through a whole sentence enough so that when I start rambling, I don’t finish my sentences. I feel like this is how most of my ideas work.

Collaborative writing is rewarding, yet difficult.

Erik: If I remember correctly, Gaines got the idea for this blog after he and I were walking home late at night from one of our usual haunts, all the while talking about our experiences with Grand Theft Auto 5. That conversation resulted in a post that created a lot of momentum for this blog, and to this day, is still our most widely read article. It was also the first co-authored piece we had on the blog. However, the only other time we’ve played with co-authorship was during Gaines’, Nick’s and Stephanie’s collaborative reviews of The Wolf Among Us. Why haven’t we co-authored more pieces? I don’t know, but I think we should given that it’s produced some of the writing of which I’m most proud.

Stephanie: For me, the difficulty mostly has to do with what I talked about in the troubles of writing weekly content. I’d love to co-author more pieces. But when I get caught up in a mix of “can I write something sensible?” anxiety and the intricacies of daily life, I tend to procrastinate and forget about it. Again, a little more self-discipline would probably help me.

Gaines: I love co-authoring. We should co-author more! It can be difficult, especially juggling two (or more) schedules. But, I like products–the way multiple arguments blend together as a conversation. Co-authoring also gets me off my ass in the writing process: Guilt is a terrific motivator. I would add that I love co-authoring too much for academia; I think it’s hurting my position on the job market that I don’t have a single authored publication. But, that’s probably a problem with academic publishing in humanities, not with co-authoring.

 

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About Gaines Hubbell

Gaines Hubbell is a lecturer of English at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. His dissertation tracks the history of topoi and loci of invention in twentieth-century rhetorical theory, pedagogy, and criticism. His research focuses on the historical and contemporary development of rhetorical theory and its adaptation for newer media environments.
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