I'm writing this review having just ﬁnished Clipping Through: One Mad Week in Video Games, written by Leigh Alexander. Well, not just ﬁnished. I stayed up last night reading it (I keep weird hours anyway). My Kindle, on which I read the book because I am a pretentious nerd, sits on my desk, snug in it's case. A glass of water sits to my left, precariously on the edge of my desk for some reason.
I take a sip, and I wonder about my future in games writing. I don't think positive or negative thoughts, mind you. I just think.
For the uninitiated: Leigh Alexander is a games journalist who writes for Gamasutra. Her articles have appeared on a variety of websites like Kotaku, Edge and almost every notable games criticism website. The point is, if you're into games criticism, you've heard of her. By her own admission, she's a "divisive" ﬁgure in the industry. Maybe that's true, but when a writer is considered "divisive," that simply speaks to their ability to make you think.
This ability to make one think is on full display in Clipping Through. On it's surface, Clipping is an account of Leigh's week-long trip to cover the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco in March 2014.
The sweet cover art, created by Liz Ryerson.
But when you crack open Clipping (that is, open the ﬁle, because it's an ebook), you ﬁnd it's not really about GDC. Leigh uses her GDC trip as a lens with which to examine various aspects of the gaming industry. We're given chapter titles like "Criticism," "Monetization," and "Castle," and in each one, Leigh opens up, giving us her views on things like free-to-play games, games criticism and gamer and developer reaction to said criticism, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
Most every chapter really spoke to me, but the Symphony of the Night chapter especially did because it's one of my favorite games too, and because she made the same analogy I did and have been trying to explain to friends almost every day since 1999. I won't spoil it for you here. Basically, the point is that games are deeper than they seem. Games like Symphony are, anyway. For comparison, Battleﬁeld and Call of Duty are not. It's through this chapter that Leigh tells us of her meeting with Koji Igarashi, aka IGA, aka the producer of the Castlevania series and the assistant director of Symphony. And Leigh paints a picture of stark contrast between how well she connected to Symphony and how, for lack of a better term, awkward her eventual meeting with IGA went. Leigh talks about the gulf that can exist between creator and fan, and that "'closing the distance' is no good motivation to do this work."
Throughout the book, Leigh adopts a conversational, matter-of-fact tone, and therefore, Clipping doesn't read like one of those cold, mechanical IGN minute-by-minute rundowns of the conference. (Did you ever actually read those things? They're weird.) Rather, through nearly the entirety of Clipping, we are there with Leigh, wandering the show ﬂoor at GDC, going to the Independent Games Festival Awards show, hanging with Ryan Payton of Camoﬂaj and discussing Metal Gear. (You must read Leigh's Metal Gear Solid 4 theory. In one sentence, she puts a new perspective on the game and turns it on it's head. I won't look at it the same anymore.) Side note: this chapter is named "Pidgeon." That's awesome. You'll see why.
Clipping is a deeply personal read, giving those on "the other side" of the game industry-the consumers, the people with a passing interest in games, etc-an insiders' view of this wonderful if sometimes twisted industry. Unlike most articles you've probably read, though, headlined something like "An Insider's Confession," or some such nonsense, Leigh gives us a tour that feels real. She's remarkably open here, sharing her personal feelings, thoughts, and fears with us. She describes the stress that comes with the job, the hectic schedule, and things like the awkwardness that ensues when you run into a person whose work you've sharply criticized. (I won't say which person or which work here, but I will say I generally agree with Leigh's criticism of that certain game.) It makes you realize that this games journalist life us nerds aspire to is not as glamorous as it sounds, yet we wouldn't trade it for anything. At least, after reading Clipping, I don't think Leigh would.
On a side note, Leigh writes personal anecdotes about three of my favorite games ever (Symphony of the Night, Metal Gear Solid 3, and Phantasy Star II), so, much happiness here on my end.
To conclude: Leigh is a fantastic writer; she has a way of describing places and people in a simultaneously artistic and matter-of-fact way. It's like she's sitting there talking to you; there's no indescribable barrier between author and reader, and for that, I couldn't be happier. A lot of people write about what being a gamer, and, in this case, being a games journalist is like.
Only some people really get it, though.
Leigh Alexander gets it.
I loved Clipping Through. I can't recommend it enough to anyone with at least a passing interest in games journalism. At ﬁrst promising us a trip to GDC, this book becomes something more starting on Page 1, and takes us on a thought provoking journey through the world of a games journalist. You can, and should, buy it here, for $5 or "pay what you want," and also check out her previous book, Breathing Machine, here.