On the 21st of June at itjourno.com.au, Allie Coyne posted the following story after an interview with me about this very blog. What follows is reprinted with her kind permission.
ITJ’s ‘BlogWatch' takes a look at some of the lesser known Australian tech sites and media outlets, and this week we have a chat to the founder of the Flickering Colours games review website, Adam Ruch.
How much thought do we put into how the worlds in videos games are developed? How far do we really delve into how fictional worlds work? It’s not hard to get on the net and find out how the latest game has rated, who likes it and who doesn’t, but for those who want a critical, academic review of LA Noire, there’s not a whole lot out there.
PhD student Adam Ruch saw the hole in the market and took advantage of his thesis work, understanding videogames in a critical context, to launch a blog at the start of 2009, focusing on critical reviews of video games.
“Blogging is a great way to put lots of ideas out there more quickly than academia,” Ruch said. “I’ve been blogging in one form or another for five or six years, maybe even longer. I put some of the quasi-academic stuff up there because it gives me a feeling of closure and like I’ve finished something; it can take a year to get something published in academia.”
Ruch’s focus is geared towards the way fictional worlds are created for players, looking at issues such as realism vs fantasy.
“What I think is interesting is how they go about trying to create the world, and how you demonstrate how a fictional world works, rather than just showing examples,” he said. “How you make someone feel like they are the Starship Captain of the Federation, rather than just watching somebody be the Captain. What are the activities and thought? processes you’re trying to create.”
Ruch believes though people ‘aren’t doing it’, there’s a significant games criticism blogosphere out there.
‘It’s something where I do think you need a little bit more wider education and general media literacy,” he said. “Understanding a little bit of film, a little bit of literature, and television to experience these things not just as video games but as artwork in a larger group of things. I try to make comparisons between TV, film, and books just as much as I do other video games.”
Drawing on his work at Macquarie University, where he is currently working with others to develop an academic games journal, as well as a larger video games degree/major, Ruch’s main contribution to the cause is to get students, and readers, to think of video games in similar ways to literature and film.
“It’s more like an explorative essay of some aspect of the game; further investigation, whether there’s an interesting historical reference, or some sort of interesting philosophical thing,” Ruch said. “I do a bit of research and find out why the game does what it does. I want to help people learn more about their games and think about them differently.”
Ruch is similarly dedicated to steering away from the consumer advice element of games reviews.
“I’m not trying to convince somebody to buy it or not, that’s one of the reasons I don’t have a scoring system,” he said. “It should be pretty evident when reading if I like the game or not. I think reviews have come to mean consumer advice, and that’s exactly what I’m not trying to do.”
Ruch’s PhD work, while advantageous in inspiring the site’s content, means he is generally only able to post an article once a fortnight.
“I teach and have due dates, so it gets pushed to the side when the real world comes calling,” he said. “It’s happened a couple of times when I’ll have an idea and I’m able to use the blog to throw it up there quickly, as it comes to me, and it’ll get a bit of commentary, and I’ve been able to create an academic paper out of it. It’s all part of the same process sometimes.”
Making the site profitable isn’t a concern for Ruch, as much as having his work recognised.
“I would like for me to be known as the guy who writes that site,” he said. “I’m going to be teaching a lot of undergrads and it would be cool if they knew of my work. I like the idea of spreading this kind of thing around. It doesn’t just have to be stuffy old professors locked in offices talking only to each other.”
“If I’m going to start making money through writing I’d rather submit to a publication like a magazine, but it’s a hobby, and I have the website up there for other reasons,” Ruch added. “I do a bit of multimedia teaching as well, so I have the webspace up there anyway. I’m also on a scholarship at the moment so the uni pays me for all the fiddling around I do.”
Having only installed analytics recently, Ruch has so far seen around 1,000 unique visitors last month, and despite being happy with the figures, notes there is no comparative monthly view. Ruch’s attitude towards profit and traffic is similarly seen through his approach to competition with rival games review websites.
“I’m not trying to provide consumer advice and I think a lot of those sites really are, that’s why they’re bigger, it’s almost like advertising,” he said. “There is a very strong critical community out there, as well. There’s room in the boat for everybody. I do look at them as inspiration though, I want to write as well as they are writing.”