Maybe it's because I've been a newspaper journalist most of my working life, or maybe it’s because a friend reminded me recently that I was an “old bugger”, but I've still got a love affair with the printed word.
In fact, you could even say that you’d probably find ink running through my veins rather than blood if I cut myself deep enough.
When I sat down to write this, the plan was to create a “the printed gaming magazine is dead, long live the internet” story, but try as I might, I kept coming back to how I still get a kick out of picking up the latest copy of my favourite gaming magazine, British Edge - despite the fact that I can get my gaming news immediately from the web and dedicated gaming sites, such as the esteemed one you're reading right now or my own Game Junkie blog at stuff.co.nz.
But I can hear all the youngsters bellowing now, “OMG, old man, get with the programme. The internet is the shizzle” and they’d be right, but I just can’t help it, there's just something about holding a fresh magazine in my hands, feeling the weight of the pages on my open palms, rubbing my fingers over the paper stock, and inhaling the ink from the page (well, maybe not the inhaling bit, but I'm sure you get the imagery I'm trying to convey here).
Try this the next time you’re in a gaming shop that sells hardcopy magazines like Edge. Pick one up. Go on, it won’t bite. Feel how substantial it is, flick through the pages (if it isn’t sealed). You can’t do that with the internets, my friends.
I think part of the attraction of Edge for me is that it consistently has some of the best looking magazine covers I have ever seen, especially the 200th issue series which could have been one of 200 different covers. I managed to get one with Arthur from Ghosts 'n Goblins, but could have quite have easily scored Richard B Riddick, GTA Vice City, Shadow of the Collusus, Beyond Good and Evil, or Okami.
The reason I still love a printed magazine is that I’m fascinated with the love and creativity that goes into its presentation, month after month after month. It's just something you don't tend to get with internet sites, which often tend to stick to the same template, just updating front pages and content, sticking with the same layouts from day to day, week to week, month to month.
Just like gamers love having a physical copy of game in their console/PC I love having a copy of a gaming magazine in my bedside table. I can make 162 pages of Edge last a month - just long enough until the next issue comes out.
Every month the ritual is the same: I pick up the magazine and at first just flick through it, soaking in everything it contains. Then on the first, more measured read, I'll devour the editorial and feature articles, hanging on every word. Then I'll read the reviews, although to be fair, I don’t buy gaming magazines for the reviews.
And there is the dilemma for the print media: gaming magazines are losing favour with today’s gaming youth because it takes time to read through a magazine. Today’s youth, which has been described as the three-click generation (if you can’t find it in three clicks of the mouse, you don’t need it) doesn’t have time to devote to laboriously poring through a magazine.
As that same wise friend I mentioned earlier said (yes, the one who graciously referred to me as an “old bugger”), the internet is perfect for game reviews, though: “Tight little nuggets just to give you an idea,” he told me. And he’s right, of course.
My friend had another interesting observation as to why both I and he love the print media so: the internet seems to have sucked the life from a lot of game reviews (read: a lot of them are just plain boring).
I say this because it seems these days anyone who thinks they can string a few words together can also be a writer, and writing about video games is pretty cool (you get free games, right?) but to me, it seems the internet has spawned cookie cutter game reviews which follow the standard “this is what the game is about, this is what the game looks like, this is what I did/didn’t like about it” format. Edge magazine gives me something the internet doesn’t: craft.
Gone is the creative language and point of difference between reviews so that each one stands out from the next (present company excepted, of course). I want to connect with the writer about a game or a topic, not just give me details that I can quickly ascertain by reading the back of the box.
However, I’ll be the first to admit that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the things you need to, and time is precious, so it’s much easier to glance quickly through an online gaming review than pore over the pages of a magazine. And some high profile print gaming magazines have fallen by the wayside over the past few years, most notably Computer Gaming World Magazine, latterly known as Games for Windows Magazine, which shut up shop after 27 years in existence.
Fewer and fewer mainstream newspapers, too, are publishing video game content these days. In New Zealand, The Press newspaper is probably the only newspaper that covers comprehensive gaming coverage each week. And things are only going to get tougher as publishers tighten their belts and young gamers look to more hip and fashionable outlets to get their gaming news. The printed media has to move with the times and evolve, or be lost in the void forever.
And let’s face it, gaming news and information on the net is free, where a quality magazine like Edge will set you back $25 a month. That’s cash you could be using for a new game or an Xbox Live subscription, isn’t it?
But Edge must be doing something right to be going just as strong as it was when it first started 16 years ago. Right?
When it launched its first issue in 1993, modern video games were still in their infancy. It was a time when the CD-ROM was starting to make inroads, the 3DO console was taking the fight to Sega, Nintendo and Atari and Sony were hinting at making a bold entry into the video game hardware market.
Any gamer over the age of thirty will remember the days when gaming magazines were king (go on, admit it). God, I have fond memories of the ZX Spectrum magazines that I used to buy. Then, when the CD first came out, magazines had CD’s glued to the cover with game demos. Ahh, those were the days.
But let’s face it, the days for buying a magazine purely for a game demo is over. With serious gamers having broadband internet, a downloaded demo is but minutes away (OK, perhaps not minutes, but you know what I mean).
I guess what makes Edge a success is that it doesn't try to beat the internet at its own game. It knows that it can't beat online for immediacy but its strengths are its feature stories. For me, it’s a masterpiece of visual design, with stylishly laid out pages and an art style that is distinctively its own. White space, an effective design tool, is king.
OK, the printed magazine’s days might be numbered, but like the humble newspaper, which many pundits predicted would be extinct by now, it will live on, but will evolve and be ever changing - although hopefully good print journalism won’t become as rare as precious stones and cost twice as much in years to come.
So the next time you’re in a gaming store or magazine shop, don’t screw your nose up at that copy of Edge or Play you see sitting on the shelf, all forlorn, just waiting for an owner. Pick it up, heft it about and gaze upon it. Who knows, you might end up buying it and like me, come to treasure reading a much loved art form.