A year ago I set myself a personal challenge to rekindle the flames of the bonfire, a project that had begun as a group collaborative effort of gaming enthusiasts within the UK before running its course as these types of projects often do. For a while, the bonfire was all but diminished to ashes, no more than a shadow and reflection of its former self. But the pull of creativity and collaboration was ever present and I decided to rekindle the flames and breath new life into this endeavour from my own personal perspective, a new mission statement and focus to begin creating content in my own voice that might resonate beyond our original groups vision. The original intention of my own contribution was very much to focus on the written content, producing opinion pieces and reviews in conjunction with audio and visual content from the others. Whilst that came to pass to varying degrees I always felt I had something to contribute or create within me and as such, last July I begun a series of intended, weekly articles covering a broad remit of gaming culture and merchandise. The intention last year had always been to transition to visual and audio media, be they filmed videos or podcast type productions however under my own endeavours the time and feasibility of producing a consistent product has been out of my means and as such I have driven forward with my written projects.
The first juncture before undertaking this project was to identify and set myself objectives and checkpoints, to understand whether I could establish an objective measure of success with no delusions of grandeur. The formation of my original writing and creative team had been to undertake and create a gaming based product showcasing and discussing more broader themes, growing across various platforms and media but having the most impact at first in the visual arts with a fast growing Instagram channel. My fortee, if I may be so bold, was always in the written word and being able to construct and develop longer form articles and as such the allure of returning to writing consistently grew, gaming and general media the easiest subject matter to tackle for someone that does honestly enjoying this form of entertainment. But to ensure any form of longevity required setting measurable goals and checkpoints, and facing the realisation the product itself may be its own reward, indeed one of my critical junctures was to write consistently for a year, every three months a noticeable win for me as I pushed through moments of fatigue and disinterest as I questioned what the end result for this venture would be. Whether that speaks to my own personal demons or character flaws is for someone else to judge, I do enjoy and thrive from having goals and targets to achieve and aim for, when I begun last July it was the very simple challenge of producing a consistent weekly product, that grew to finding my voice, developing my style, pushing through to Christmas, all small goals and challenges I set myself to ensure consistency of product.
On reflection, perhaps the greatest challenge to date has been crafting a nuanced, informative and most importantly structured article style which continues to evolve and adapt to this day. Looking back to my first article, a review of The Art of Alien Isolation there were elements already in place, specifically the style of photography I have continued to use with only small incremental changes with the purchase of more close ranges micro lenses in addition to shooting angles and approach. But an article on reflection requires some critical judgement and I am humble enough to admit my style has changed and grown over the last twelve months as I have looked to develop and shape my style, and without a shadow of a doubt there is still a huge potential to develop and improve how I construct and write the articles I produce. Where perhaps originally I relied on visual imaging and photography to be a central theme with a great level of images used fundamentally this platform is itself a blogging site and as such the first and main evolution of my articles was to actually, quite simply, write more words and give a greater level of detail and my own opinion. The last twelve months have been a personal, consistent, internal debate within on trying to find the balance between objective and factual writing and giving my opinion for what it’s worth. I look back on some of the more well received pieces I have produced and find myself questioning the decision and direction of putting to much of my character into the articles and not enough factual information, it’s a tiring process being self critical of your own work and exposing yourself in such an open way to the world beyond your four walls.
Certainly the drive to write consistently about gaming has inspired me, which is a nice word for on occasion driven me, to indulge in this community and past time and push myself outside of my very safe comfort zones and suburban living life style. Each decision, each choice, each critical juncture of this project was one reached and decided upon by the very simple notion of to continue this project or allow it to fade away into obscurity. Perhaps, in honesty that’s its natural conclusion, but each stumbling block or moment of pause has led to a new opening or venture, a new project to begin, a new event to attend and expand my horizons once more. Which draws me back to the moment in July 2018 when this drive and focus began, a very simple exchange with a close friend of mine when I confided in him my intention to begin writing again, with no fanfare or explanation beyond that I would forever feel frustrated and constrained with what I wanted to create and produce if I didn’t just begin, creating and producing the material that I have. It’s a cliche or known secret but certainly before I begun, one of the more obvious questions I asked myself was, just how do you consistently blog, write and produce content. The answer? you blog, write and consistently produce content, to what degree, quality and level is entirely at your own decree and attrition. I personally attempt to produce weekly content, others I follow and collaborate with produce to a far higher quantity, others, less so or on no fixed agenda or timetable. My first lesson was to realise you didn’t have to produce weekly articles on a weekly basis, the power of scheduling and having a day of creativity when you could write and produce pieces and reviews and schedule to launch over a period of weeks, it’s been a revelation and positive learning goal. So before I conclude and discuss plans for the future, lets enjoy a few highlights from the last twelve months.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
- St Pauls to Covent Garden
- Piccadilly Circus to Trafalgar Square
- Whitehall to Parliament Square
- Tower of London to Tower Bridge
What begun as an intention to review games and gaming merchandise quickly changed with the realisation to produce content consistently I would need to expand my remit and challenge myself to break down and interpret the culture in a way I found engaging. One of the attractions for me from this series has always been the ability to explore the historical and often recognisable worlds created by Ubisoft, from a moment of revelation in Rome to the streets of Victorian era London, inspiration drove innovation and I found myself with my camera and controller doing the two things I enjoy so readily, exploring the digital world and contrasting the two environments. Its that basic premise, I adore exploring the fantasy worlds of Bioware for example and the emotions they elicit but in truth, one of the greatest, happiest moments of gaming for me in the last year was standing in a virtual reconstruction of Covent Garden in Westminster in London and just feeling at home, feeling safe and content despite the ruthless blood thirsty gangs and assassins around me. A strange sensation but one I wanted to explore further.
As ever the self doubt and questioning of my intentions begun, would this find an audience, would it be appreciated or enjoyed, and the simple truth is, to motivate myself to accomplish this series required me to just realise the reward would be the final product and to look back and reflect on a body of work I could be proud of and to actually show and demonstrate that video games had evolved and progressed over the past few decades to their current iteration today. Perhaps it speaks of my ‘geek’ filled predication and motivations, I did genuinely enjoy hitting the rubber trail and going out to find out and answer for myself, just how accurate was this presentation of my city in the digital world. From a creative standpoint, a fairly time intensive endeavour to first complete and clear the virtual world to an extent I could effectively, lark about and take in game imagery to use and then of course going out into London and matching up the shots and angles to do a compare and contrast article. Have I accomplished something of great worth and value to society? no, I’ll readily accept that effort and energy could have been used for more constructive endeavours but it’s a series I really enjoyed completing and undertaking, allowing me to champion and debate on a subject I am now more well versed in and have experienced first hand. One of the greatest frustrations faced as a gamer is the simplistic notion of a infantile and immature product, I’ll readily point out and discuss the artistic merits and value of titles such as Syndicate, the nuance in the world creation and design and the authenticity to the world around us.
Living in the capital provides opportunity, if not always motivation, to explore and visit a number of visiting, temporary attractions and exhibits that take place. Whilst perhaps I’ve found the desire to attend more cultural events the drive to visit a dedicated exhibit around gaming, certainly a paid for one wasn’t that great of an importance to me. Whether by coincidence or happenstance there were a number of attractions over the last year that did interest me, beginning in November with the Design Play Disrupt exhibit at the Victoria and Albert museum. In truth, I wasn’t motivated or interested at that time to attend a traditional convention finding the notion overwhelming to some degree but this represented a safe, middle ground, a paid for exhibit which does have the unintended effect of attracting the more dedicated fan base willing to pay, and indeed was a well informed and interesting look at both the artistic drive and motivation behind a number of key titles on the variety of home consoles of the current generation. But also a look at the more political motivations in the development process. From the offset I have attempted to write with a more centrist mindset and approach, attempting the difficult act in the present climate of veering to the right or left in my thoughts and opinions. An easier belief than the reality around me on occasion, the view points and politics in this exhibit were certainly of the more liberal left leaning persuasion which was interesting to an extent but unfortunately did very much only present one side of the conversation which I did feel could have been expanded on to present a more levelled and balanced discussion. None the less, a fascinating exhibit to attend, for me specifically the art and development work but some of the more interesting exhibits at the end were also fascinating with the games and cabinets that were certainly unique and fun to try.
The AI Exhibit, running at present in the Barbican centre in London, looking at the concept of artificial intelligence from conception to realisation and beyond into the future certainly had a great detail around this subject matter, some elements I have a certain familiarity with given my interest and love for science fiction in general but certainly there was a great deal beyond my comprehension although thankfully it was presented in a friendly and informative manner. The applications and direction of AI has accelerated with the development of electronics and computers over the last century to the extent its impact and effect on larger society is generally hidden and unseen now as opposed to the concept in its infancy which was very much about bringing the technology into the public domain. From the use of algorithms in deciding so called hate speech on publishing platforms, the management of traffic patterns, the optimum design of societies and cities to uses in the medical and agriculture sector, there are a great many applications for this technology going forward into the future, to even comprehend a fraction of the subject matter is challenging but it was designed, curated and presented in such a fun and informative manner expanding beyond its base remit of the exhibit into interactive and expressive displays and attractions outside of the main museum.
Art Book Reviews
- Art of Alien Isolation
- Art of Dead Space
- Art of Horizon Zero Dawn
- Art of Last of Us
- Art of Watch Dogs
One of the earliest motivations of undertaking this journey wherever it takes me was the impetus to review and share my thoughts and opinions on the gaming art books in my personal collection, expanding this in recent months to include those of a member of the original team with his vast assortment of gaming merchandise. I’ve discussed these in detail, the opportunity to view behind the curtain so to speak and explore the making of these digital open worlds is an exciting prospect for fans of these games. Certainly the complexity and style of these book reviews have changed and I would humbly suggest, improved to some degree over the months. As mentioned, one of the struggles and challenges I’ve faced when writing around this subject in particular is the decision to to compose a more objective, factual based review or alternatively allow my personality and opinion to be the overwhelming drive. I do feel a more factual approach makes for a more informed and arguably, ‘better’ review and as such I hope this tone and style has been portrayed faithfully over the last twelve months. This does of course rely on purchasing these books, which thankfully on a number of occasions have been heavily discounted from Forbidden Planet in London, my reliable source for cheap gaming merchandise living in the capital.
The range of titles available is somewhat limited and they in honesty feel like an indulgence of the gaming community, does it have any merit or ‘worth’ outside the various fanbase? probably not and from an artistic standpoint that is a shame. The development and creation of these worlds is outstanding to see with the creation of entire environments and populace, based on occasion on real world locations or areas but most often entirely driven from imagination. Probably the greatest range has been centered around the prevalent open world titles on the current generation, Horizon Zero Dawn and Watch Dogs as two examples however there is a scattering of the more linear third person action titles from the previous generation which I have picked up over the last year which are fascinating to read and explore, especially the art book for Dead Space, a seemingly retired series for now but a really intriguing look into this gaming franchise and effort to create a terrifying world to experience. I have a few more books to review in the near future and have decided to time these around a review of the games they are based on, most recently Watch Dogs and Dragon Age Inquisition in their fifth anniversary years but also coming up, The Division, Assassins Creed Unity and Metal Gear Solid 5 amongst others.
So Many Games
If the review of the art books was a tangible objective and measure, the impetus for the past twelve months derived from the very realisation in truth I had played and finished very few games in 2018. With the exception of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, itself principally to undertake a photography project I don’t honestly recall any stand out moments or memories from those experienced. To say it was an existential crisis is perhaps a little to strong however it was a critical juncture in my social past time, a moment of truth where I had to consider did I enjoy this past time and want to carry it on into the future. As with all hobbies and interests, there is no, tangible cost to putting aside the game controller and enjoying something different, was this such a moment? well given the last year its easy to answer in retrospect that I have indulged and enjoyed this activity to a greater extent, fuelled principally by the reviewing and writing, adding a greater depth beyond the experience of playing a title itself. Very deliberately I made the decision to complete at least 12 games this year, a feasible ambition and one to date I am accomplishing.
I wanted to experience a plethora of titles and experiences beyond my usual comfort zones and actually begin to clear my growing backlog of games, purchased with the best intentions and left to gather dust in my real and digital collections across various media and platform. I recognise personally I did suffer from burnout to a degree from perseverance and playing the same open world titles creating an uncomfortable sense of repetition and deja vu. Whilst this genre is currently the popular trend and has delivered some memorable moments, equally I have pushed through and uncovered a number of notable games downloaded over the last couple of years but never completed or undertaken for whatever reason, titles such as Old Man’s Journey, Journey and Beyond: Two Souls, all fantastic experiences, lacking perhaps in strict gameplay mechanics but all a different aspect of the gaming culture and providing an alternate perspective of what we take video games to be going forward. I’m still to undertake and complete my biggest challenge of the year, finally playing and completing A Link To The Past by the end of the year.
Collaboration and Community
Ok not an original picture or reflection of the people I’ve begun to interact and discuss this topic with but still, the last couple of months have been an interesting and informative process making and sharing some great memories and reflections of our past time. This blog and group begun as a collaboration between friends, that was always my motivation to begin writing in earnest about video games and gaming culture but alas that drive and purpose faded away to some degree for a variety of reasons. I had undertaken to continue to write on this subject matter last year however at times it was somewhat of a solitary experience, gaining some feedback and commentary but of course raising that spectre of self doubt and questioning what the end result and destination would be?. Towards the end of February or March? I made the conscious decision to actually begin to interact with the wider gaming blogging community, looking for articles and pieces in the same or similar orbit but also from different backgrounds and areas, enjoying the wide spectrum of opinions and attitudes to games and gaming culture. One of the worst cultural sins that has permeated with this form of divisive politics on both sides of the Atlantic is the enforcement of division into tribal groups and the hostility towards those who oppose the foundations of these tribes. I am very open in my approach here and taking a centrist path, I’m happy to discuss and support conservative and traditional opinions as equally as liberal and more challenging ideologies. Perhaps a grandiose statement but I do believe the foundations of western civilization were built on discourse and the political tribes forming consensus on opinions and the rule of law. If Greek culture set aside political division hundreds of years ago to establish common virtues and reason, I do believe Twitter tribes can set aside the deplatforming and hostility and find some common consensus on discourse amongst each other.
I’ve been fortunate to get to know and follow a number of inspiring writers and bloggers in recent months who have had a positive impact on me as a writer and exposed me to a more liberal attitude to the community in all the best ways of the word. Megan of A Geeky Gal continues to write and produce a wide variety of articles centered around mental health and well being in video games, certainly when you see the more negative aspects amplified its refreshing to read these articles and pieces. Kim at Later Levels a fellow almost Londoner living on the opposite side of the capital and her established and extremely well written blog has produced a number of well researched and fact checked articles I’ve enjoyed reading and indeed sharing on my page. Even providing a few travel tips and suggestions for activities which is always well received when looking for new things to do nearer to home. Robert at Adventure Rules with a quirky and fun perspective on gaming culture, some create Nintendo and RPG focused articles with a certain fondness for the yellow Pokemon we all love and know so well. Also a great inspiration for collaborative writing that I will shortly be partaking in the very near future. Angie, The Backlog Crusader first appeared on my radar with her perspective’s working in game stores, I really enjoyed these articles and could certainly relate to some degree having worked in the retail sector to some extent for the last decade. The nature of the store may change, seemingly the customer type is universal on both sides of the ocean. And Emily at Monster Lady’s Diary, who has consistently engaged and discussed a range of articles and pieces I have produced in the last few months. Following her work did illuminate me to the difficulty of being a Canadian fan of European groups, seemingly a more challenging task that I’ll openly admit taking for granted living in Europe. Also, as someone that vividly remembers their dreams and being with someone that doesn’t, its always refreshing to see an insight into other peoples psyches and dream states.
There are a great many people I’ve missed here, not intentionally or through some machiavellian scheme of self promotion but more to ensure this maintains some resemblance of restraint. I set out recently to become more involved and collaborative with other writers and bloggers, to gain a broader insight into the community and to improve my own knowledge and expand my opinion beyond my initial narrow remit. The people I’ve ‘met’ in the digital realm and discussed and talked to have come from a broad remit of experiences, ages and backgrounds, providing a plethora of opinions and attitudes to the gaming community. In contrast to the tribal almost hostile attitude found on other social media platforms and services, to date no one has been confrontational or challenging, I’ve yet to experience any hostility or negativity to the extent I’ve seen on other channels. It gives optimism civil discourse can return to some degree when people from different backgrounds come together and share and shape their opinions and viewpoints. As the industry matures and begins to tackle and confront many outstanding social issues permeating around society, I can only hope the respectable exchange of knowledge and opinion continues unabated.
Into The Future?
Having reviewed the last twelve months, what does the future hold for Around The Bonfire? the original intention of this blog and first measure of success would be to write for a year, to that extent amongst others I have accomplished this objective and now face a decision whether to continue. Certainly I have material to review and play, exhibitions and conventions to attend over the next six months and impetus and collaboration with others to ensure I continue to produce content on a regular, weekly basis in addition to more spontaneous articles and opinion pieces as and when the mood inspires. The decision to make comes from a more superficial and aesthetic choice but also one that has more fundamental connotations for myself as a writer under this banner. Around The Bonfire was always the collaboration of a group of friends and whilst I have carried the banner for the last year certainly it does linger at the back of my mind the legacy of that name and what might have been had we persevered together. As such, my intention for the next month going into September is to focus on the redesign and branding of the page to make it more tailored and reflective of myself as an individual and my approach to writing, a new mission statement, a new beginning.
Consequently, I will continue my backlog game of the month in July and August with a review of Beyond: Two Souls next Friday, in addition an expected trip to the London Film and Comic Con where I will be meeting one of my childhood idols Mr William Shatner and of course discussing the experience. I have a great collaborative challenge courtesy of Robert at Adventure Rules regarding ‘relationships’, more to be revealed in due course as it comes to fruition. Beyond that, my engagement and participation in the gaming community may subside to some degree over the next few weeks as I work to redesign the site and rebrand the various media accounts and channels required to launch a new product. It’s been a fascinating and engaging twelve months, with new experiences, new acquaintances and opportunities I hadn’t predicted or expected when I begun this project a year ago. Fundamentally, it has re-energised my enjoyment in this activity and opened my eyes to different genres and styles I had never willingly explored or attempted previously. I have found my voice, developing a style of writing and presentation but as with all art forms, an evolving process that will change, becoming perhaps more succinct and objective, maybe even more subjective and personality driven.
As this review draws to a close, a humble and heartfelt thank you for supporting and enjoying my work over the last twelve months. I’ve enjoyed getting to know a variety of individuals that have reached out, commented and joined the discussion in the gaming community, derided on occasion for being insular and tribal but certainly not my experience to date. I have plans for the next six months, when and how they come to fruition and in what form is an evolving process. For now, for everyone that has taken a seat Around The Bonfire you are always, and most welcome.
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