The women and men who create videogames have to be superhumanly skilled with computers. So there’s obviously no shortage of intelligence in that segment of the population. But writing about videogames on the Internet requires no journalistic credentials whatsoever. Any geek off the street with a browser and Wi-Fi can do it (watch me go!). But, if you are fascinated with culture and have even a passing interest in videogames, there are certain gaming sites that you must bookmark immediately. All five of the websites/blogs I am about to mention are adding valuable insights to the discussion and offering informed critiques of the latest games. They share Paste’s respect and passion for the videogame artform and will never insult your intelligence (though they’re not afraid to insult the right people in the games industry, for the right reasons). Most importantly, they’re fun to read. And when it comes to games—playing them or writing about them—enjoyment is the most fundamental prerequisite of all fundamental prerequisites.
5. Wired’s Game|Life (blog.wired.com/games)
Editor Chris Kohler and his merry minions at Wired.com have created a fantastic gaming blog. Insightful reviews (if occasionally more preoccupied with the form’s mechanics than its artistic significance), independently reported news content and wonderfully engaging multimedia content are the cornerstones of the site. A semi-recent story ruminated on the role of Irish music in the Japanese RPG tradition. Good luck finding a piece half that freshly conceived on Gamespot.
4. The Escapist (escapistmagazine.com)
If The Escapist only existed to publish the wonderfully witty, caustically cranky, irreverent, animated tirades of Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw’s Zero Punctuation game critiques, they’d still deserve a spot on this list. But there’s plenty more to enjoy on the site. A feature story on the homepage—at the time of this writing, anyway—ponders racial identity in the gaming context. How important is it to racial minorities to be adequately represented in the games they play?
3. Magical Wasteland (magicalwasteland.com)
The beauty of games is that they’re interactive, which also happens to be the beauty of online journalism. Conversation begins the moment a given piece ends. In late October, sole author of the blog Magical Wasteland wrote a thoughtful entry that was exceedingly critical of Tom Bissell’s recent New Yorker story (“The Grammar of Fun”) about blockbuster title Gears of War 2 and its creator CliffyB. Bissell subsequently responded in the comment thread and a full-blown dialogue ensued that grappled with subjects ranging from the tension between low-brow vs. high-brow game concepts to the wow-ness of putting a chainsaw on the end of a combat rifle. Magical Wasteland invites these sorts of conversations because it traffics in compelling ideas and is respectful even when it cracks the bullwhip on game-journalism bullshit. (The site's utterly stark design and monochrome color palette is also a blessed antidote to the visual bombast exploding off 98% of gaming homepages.)
2. Penny Arcade (penny-arcade.com)
Gabe and Tycho, the authors and sequential artists behind Penny Arcade, have become celebrities in the gaming world. And for good reason. Sure, their written observations about games are honest and cogently written, their web comics are hilarious and brimming with delightful insider humor, but the duo’s main appeal is their relatability. These are fellow gamers, not ivory-tower critics. These are the buddies you hang out with and can effortlessly discuss Islamic fundamentalism or Sonic The Hedgehog. But they’re damn smart, brutally funny and always just a mouse-click away.
1. Crispy Gamer (crispygamer.com)
One of the newest additions to the world of Internet game journalism is also its most promising. Instead of weighing the videogame medium's cultural import for a broad audience, most gaming critics are content to hack up a puddle of mucus about dialogue trees and physics engines for stuttering fanboys. Thanks be to ye olde gaming gods for Crispy Gamer's writing staff, which includes top-flight scribes like Gus Mastrapa, Scott Jones and Kyle Orland. A cool swallow of purified water in the irradiated, bone-dry wasteland of the gaming press.