Just before her gaming anthology Critical Hits drops in November, Martin Healy talks to editor Zoë Jellicoe about the book and the medium-at-large.
WHILE video games have been a bustling medium for nearly forty years at this point, the world of video game criticism is still in the early stages. “New Games Journalism” (coined by Rock Paper Shotgun founder Kieron Gillen) has been rapidly developing over the last decade, and has seen a more diverse crowd of critics diving deeper into their experiences with the medium. Few of these essays and opinions have made it to book form, something Zoë Jellicoe decided she should change.
Talking to OTwo from her new home of Berlin, she mentioned that “I just couldn’t really find anything in a book that I could buy that really represented the diversity and intelligence of the video game criticism I could find online.”
Jellicoe, who currently works as an editor for a start-up in Germany, is editing a new gaming anthology called Critical Hits. The book is bringing together new works from writers and artists around the world and focues on gaming and its culture. She originally wrote game reviews and features for Totally Dublin several years ago, when her appetite for game writing grew.
She describes the origins of her idea as “at the time that there was another editor I was working with called Sam Tranum and he had put together this book with Pamela Newenham called Silicon Docks, and I had the idea of putting together this anthology of video game criticism.”
The book contains work from games journalists such as Dámhín McKeown, Leo Devlin, Holly Gramazio, Aidan Wall, and Austin Walker. Jellicoe’s origins in the Irish gaming scene has led to a significant Irish presence in the anthology, though she says “I hadn’t even intended it to be Irish-specific, it happened that way because a lot of the connections that I made with writers just happened originally.”
Originally funded through Kickstarter earlier this year, there have been plenty of highs for the project. They surpassed Jellicoe’s original goal of €3,500 to reach over €5,000. A crowdfunding campaign is always stressful, as Jellicoe noted: “It was super stressful, it was like a lot of late nights, but it was kind of a rollercoaster, I was pretty much managing the Kickstarter single-handedly.”
Above: Jellicoe. Photo credit: Rafal Das Wojcick
The book contains pieces from individuals based around the globe, but in the beginning, Jellicoe mentions it wasn’t too difficult to get people interested; “Everyone was super enthusiastic about it at the beginning.” She laughs a bit about the process, saying “it was hard getting chapters in, everybody was like hella late… it’s a small project I’m sure it’s like less than they are being paid elsewhere but, I wanted everybody to get paid.”
The foreword is written by Cara Ellison, a former games critic who authored a book last year on her travels around the world of game developers called Embed with Games. As Jellicoe says, “it’s odd that it’s kind of one of the only like contemporary books about video game development.” Jellicoe is a big fan of Ellison’s work, saying she loved how “human” Embed is and that it informed her own work: “a big thing when I was putting the book together was just I chose people I thought were really interesting and I made sure that no one was writing about the same thing.”
Merging together personal experiences with games writing is something Jellicoe stressed she wants Critical Hits to cover: “I think it’s not really what people would expect from video game criticism or video game journalism… so I think it’s just that I wanted accessibility to be the biggest thing… I wanted it to be really diverse and I wanted it to be accessible.”
Diversity is often lacking in the gaming industry, but Critical Hits provides a strong female voice for the medium. Diversity was always “in the back of [Jellicoe’s] head” but ultimately she says “it did actually develop pretty organically and it’s pretty much like 50/50 which is nice.”
The book reflects the ongoing move towards an increase of female voices in gaming, something which the indie scene has been developing for over a decade. Jellicoe believes that “[with] platforms for development systems like Unity, it’s not difficult to get into it to make something crude, and then you can build on that, and then you can build on that with further knowledge. Video game development is less of a closed space these days, I think.”
The book is set to launch in Jigsaw on November 12th and will cover topics as varied as motherhood, 1980s Hollywood cinema, the theory of infinite leisure, male privilege, and digital spaces.
With personal writing about the medium of video games is ever-growing and ever-diversifying, and Jellicoe hopes to capture that with Critical Hits. “That’s what really attracted me to video game writing to begin with because it was so different from any other media.”