So a new year, a new series in which AUK writers gush about things they love in life which are nothing to do with music. Or only tangentially at least. To start with, AUK Editor Mark Whitfield talks about his deep love for a publication which has been around for almost three decades, or over a century in dog years.
Along with music and politics, videogames have been one of my three great loves in life since I was a teenager (or four if you include handsome French men), but I have often wondered in recent years how much of that is down to videogames broadly and how much is down to a magazine which has been published 13 times a year since its birth back in 1993 which mirrors most of my adult life. The thing about Edge is that I don’t even know exactly when it happened – I’m sure being honest I didn’t buy the first issue, and may not have been aware of its existence for many years, but at some point it became something that felt like so much a part of me and my identity that I can’t remember a time in my life without it.
Funnily enough, I am not actually that good at playing games. I am awful at platforming – games such as Mario and Sonic – and still get terrified about the prospect of interacting with people online, even through one-click responses (I remember pressing “I Will Destroy You!!” or something in Hearthstone once and feeling guilty about it all day). But I’m persistent if nothing and normally manage to wade my way through games until the end. Two things have made my love for them grow over recent years – one is the increase in narrative games, where the emphasis is on the storytelling and which advances of technology have made easier to convey, particularly in terms of believable and rounded but flawed non-player characters. The other is the acceptance that in order to make the medium more accessible for people who currently don’t play games, more and more games have different difficulty options – so it can still be a challenge if you’re a whizz, but you don’t hit a complete brick wall if you’re not. For me, like any industry videogames has had its issues but it has become a much more welcoming one to people who don’t spend 16 hours a day playing them.
I do look at a lot of gaming websites and get distracted for unreasonable amounts of time. Particularly with videogames journalism, there’s an emphasis on breaking stories first, like a kind of 24-hour news channel approach to reporting. But one of things I love about Edge is that it’s offline. Its web presence is virtually non-existent (its forums having disappeared a number of years ago, and having been torn apart on various occasions by fanboys, they are personally not missed) but for me that’s a major plus. I love the fact that it is disconnected and whether I read the paper version of it which I subscribe to or a PDF in another format, it oddly feels relatively unimportant that I can’t see videos of the games in action. It means there’s even more of a reliance on its writers to describe the games it covers, whether that’s through the backstory, from focussing on a particular element of the game before widening out to the whole, or by setting it in the context of a particular issue or theme.
And what writing it is – I will often extol its virtues to anyone who’ll listen. It’s just beautiful journalism, written in a way which is informative but never dry. It’s creative, funny and passionate. I love the way that its reviews and other areas of its content aren’t attributed to individual writers but to the publication collectively. It’s political without being party political – I love the fact that without knowing who any of the writers voted for or if they even voted, they are on the side of the angels so to speak. I have no idea what they ever thought of Corbyn but they didn’t ever go down the route of patronising remarks about those of us who wanted the UK to be just a bit nicer to people down on their luck and were called utopian or naïve. It manages to never irritate me, only ever punching up, being thoughtfully reflective on issues such as gender and identity – treading carefully maybe but not avoiding them – but also admirably proactive about things which some people think that videogames journalism should keep its nose out of, like unionisation or working hours. At one point they suggested that maybe we need smaller games with less ambition but ones which didn’t wreck people’s lives in their creation, which I thought at the time was a really brave thing to say. The print format for me allows them to say things which are troll-proof and don’t immediately depress you by clicking through to the comments straight after.
It’s also visually absolutely beautiful and has become more so over the years (just look at some of Andrew Hind’s designs here). I think one of the reasons so many Edge subscribers tend to keep them all is putting it in the recycling honestly does feel like putting a book or family photo album in the bin. The design throughout is stunning but at the same time not so much so that it’s a chore to get through. It has adverts of course but doesn’t feel weighed down by them. They really are things you just want to keep and come back to in years to come.
I don’t know anyone who creates it personally, but do follow some of them on social media and am always struck by the intelligence, humility, honesty and compassion of writers and ex-writers such as Chris Schilling, Jen Simpkins and Nathan Brown. Every so often they’ll publish a letter I write to them – obviously I write for Americana UK every day but there’s still a real visceral tingle I get when I open the pages and see something I’ve written there, particularly as I have total imposter syndrome. I lecture on violence in videogames as one part of a public health masters degree but that’s about the sum total of my expertise on them. But I love the fact that rather than fire off something in the comments under a post or a tweet, they still have an old-fashioned letters page where people clearly put some thought into what they want to say. And seeing some of the other regular names in that section, it’s welcoming enough to feel like a kind of extended family – citizens of the world if you will, despite Theresa May’s theory.
Of course there is often a link between any one medium and another, and music in videogames is increasingly a whole industry in itself. And as much as bleeps are important (thank you Darlingside), if you’re not familiar with them, there is some terrific use of americana music in games. I feel like I could write a whole other piece on it, but for now, check out the music in the amazing Kentucky Route Zero, Flame in the Flood whose soundtrack was made by Chuck Ragan, or even some of the many Life is Strange games. No Depression did a good piece on it a couple of years back here.
In an era of digital consumption in which the death of print media is often exaggerated but still seems to be heading in one direction (which hey, isn’t always a bad thing – exhibit one: News of the World), I live in constant dread that one day Edge’s opening blurb on page 3 will inform me that the next issue is the last. I genuinely cannot tell you how much my life would be the worse without it. For now, I honestly do treasure every one – 13 times a year I set some proper time aside, me, Edge and a beer and feel very lucky that for all the problems of living in the era of late-stage capitalism, this is still my haven. My desert-island disc luxury item if I could have it delivered by a hot air balloon. Long may it flourish.