I just finished playing The Last Of Us and it had an ending that kept me thinking for days. The Internet provided a plethora of in-depth discussion pieces that satisfied me the way a McSpicy would a fast-food craving. It felt like a hand had reached out to me — this game had affected so many other people the way it affected me.
But this was what international gaming websites were providing. Surely, someone from home has written something substantial about only the best game ever?
I started with local gaming magazine Game Axis, working my way through ‘Review: The Last of Us (PS3)’. But all I got was a description of the entire gameplay. Where was the discussion on character and plot development, the commentary of the isolated world, the desolate landscapes? Most importantly, where was the more intellectual discourse?
It’s not like geek culture is not huge in Singapore. We have LAN shops in every district, an existent cosplay scene, local game developers, the freaking CEO of Razer is a Singaporean — so why is there not enough cultured journalism on the topic?
Of course, it’s not exactly a void either: Game Axis may not have done a good job, but some other people have.
Meet the Geek Squad
Perhaps frustrated by the lack of good journalism on geek/gaming culture locally, some enthusiasts have made it their business to set up alternative platforms to cultivate the growing community here. One such group is Death By Comic Book Death (DBCBD), a comics appreciation site which was started only recently by musician Rasyid Juraimi and his friend Marc Ashley.
They talk comics every week, and have been doing so way before the inception of DBCBD. Rasyid says, “We review the top weekly comic book releases and write articles where we delve deeper into a particular title, story, artist or writer. I write the weekly reviews, while my buddy Marc does the deep-diving.”
For those not in the know, new comics are released every week. A title is usually released monthly, and Rasyid sifts through 10-20 titles every week to pick the best five in terms of what is worth reading, keeping, and talking about.
Like with every passion project, there is a niche audience. For Rasyid, DBCBD is a hobby which he hopes will reach out to anyone even slightly interested, and inspire them to read. He quips, “I just feel like giving back to the local community, even if it’s just 1%, even if my reviews go stale by the following week.”
Ilyas Sholihyn and Reuben Soh are two friends who also took the mediocre state of gaming journalism into their own hands. Their love for gaming and writing led them to set up gaming literature magazine/webzine Killer App, which discusses gaming-meta, industry politics, and chimes in on futurology-type trends.
Chief editor and journalist Ilyas said, “We wanted to provide top video gaming editorial content for Singapore’s gamers; instead of treating gamers like little kids, we wanted to have a more mature, critical take on video gaming. Killer App would be an editorial platform discussing issues such as gaming’s role in society, culture and as a medium of storytelling.”
Despite launching two issues since 2013, Reuben says the team has been in a dormant state since though you can still check out the remnants of their writing on their website or download their debut issue. With both of them preoccupied with full-time jobs, it’s been a bit hard to regularly update Killer App.
Lack Of Colour
An avid gamer and journalist himself, Daniel Peters feels that gaming and geek culture journalism is less diverse in Singapore than in many other countries, and driven largely by fanboy culture. While the likes of Pewdiepie rake in millions of views — and dollars — online doing video game podcasts, and pop-culture websites like AV Club and Kill Screen present more accessible and vibrant takes on gaming journalism that even beginners can appreciate, we just don’t see the same happening here.
What would be refereshing, according to Daniel, would be insightful articles that touch on issues outside actual games: topics such as the longevity and relevance of E3, the widely debated “Gamergate”, and the growth of competitive gamers in Singapore. “It’ll be fascinating to read about the gamers that populate Singapore — why they’ve dedicated their lives to mastering Dota 2, or how they’ve turned a hobby into a career. Instead, for some reason, everyone loves listicles. You won’t believe what else they like,” he jokes.
Ilyas also believes that gaming does not get the credit it deserves. He comments, “I’d love to read content that actually treats gaming like a proper art form, because over the past several years it really has become one. I hate sifting through whatever crap that passes off as gaming journalism, and finding people who are unable to properly analyse gaming culture writing about surface characteristics without going deeper into its core.”
Gaming journalism consists of reviews (not just a game walkthrough), reports on the games industry, and writing the odd learned article on the nature of life, the universe, and game design. The element of analysis, the ability to deconstruct the experience critically and properly articulate them into a respectable article must always be present. When you boil it all down, the main purpose of gaming journalism is to tell people what games they should buy and play, and why.
Building The Community We Deserve
There’re a a lot of people here who appreciate geek culture, that’s for sure, but a community — that’s another thing.
“Because the geek culture comes from overseas, we’re always receiving secondhand news from US sites so it’s harder to create a direct interest and awareness. We do not a have a huge presence, nor have we left a lasting impression, on the world. We do not have enough creative contribution, thus lesser artist signings, conventions (understandably so), where in the US it’s almost every other month. There are many other reasons that contribute to this lack of interest. But that’s just the nature of things,” Rasyid notes.
And because of this, he’s happy simply with any form of content for gaming and geek culture in Singapore, be it a news site, a review blog or a forum — it’s better than nothing. “There’s a Facebook group called Singapore Comics Community. The people are very welcoming to new fans and readers, who’ll be more than happy to help new readers and collectors. So if you’re even remotely interested and want to contribute, that’s a good place to start,” he adds.
As for Reuben, he feels that the problem of a lack of solid community stems from the lack of incentive to write about video games. While a lot of money is being invested in games and game development locally, not nearly a fraction is put into video game journalism. This is true even in other parts of South East Asia. He says, ”The industry runs a lot on passion, and often the remuneration is paid in experience and goodwill. It’s good exposure and can be a lot of fun to do when you’re an amateur, but it’s not something many will consider doing as a serious full-time profession.”
The Last Of Us
Perhaps there is an underlying and bleak reality to this all; a Gordian knot. Maybe it is not just gaming journalism we should be focusing on.
Passion — already a rare commodity — is depleting with the preoccupation of tedious day jobs, and when we actually have the time to work on side projects, we’re near exhausted. Geek culture and gaming are already considered frivolous to most people here, and it will be hard to establish the journalism surrounding it as serious business.
Journalism in Singapore has changed as well, as Ilyas remarked on the reading habits of Singaporeans: “They want listicles, they want gifs, they want clickbait headlines, they want short articles that take only 30 seconds to read.” And it’s seemingly true — anything that’s long-form or discussion in nature would warrant either the closing of the browser or some nasty keyboard warriors.
Balancing out hard pieces with the light ones is not uncommon, really. The Verge, a vault for some dependable and balanced game writing, also includes animal reviews on their tech and digital-centric website. Perhaps it is a trial to see if it works, or maybe it is true that their readership is indeed vast, all-rounded, and eclectic.
With most local news platforms preferring to keep content more local-centric, whether it is tech or politics related, does this limit the reading habits of their followers or will it encourage readers to click outside the box that is localised issues? We hope we find a balance in time. May geek culture live long and prosper.