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The Extinction of Blogs

Fossi Nintendo Is the community of bloggers destined for extinction? Or is there some small hope of a revival?

Sometimes you have no idea why you’re doing something. That’s how it was with me and blogging. I did it because a good and trusted friend advised me that I should be doing it – but I had no idea what I was doing or why. But it rapidly became apparent that I was taking part in something both old and new, something very like the exchange of letters in previous centuries, but out in the open where anyone could – and frequently would – participate.

It was apparent from the outset that even though I didn’t know who I was talking to, I wasn’t just shouting at a wall. Indeed, in my golden age of blogging it was clear I was part of a very distinct community – what I called my blog cluster – and I read their blogs just as the read mine. This exchange of ideas was what kept blogging vibrant, and was epitomised by Corvus Elrod’s Blogs of the Round Table (a descendent of which still lives on at Critical Distance). This monthly game-themed event declared a topic and linked together everyone willing to discuss it. A smashing success for many years, it began to be held up by the increasing demands of employment or parenthood for everyone in Corvus’ cluster of bloggers.

In principle, that we were getting too old to blog like we used to shouldn't have mattered, as a new generation of bloggers would have picked up the torch. But what we didn’t know was that there was only going to be one generation of blog clusters, even though blogs still exist and new bloggers constantly appear. What changed was the mechanism of social connectivity. It ceased to be the wildly chaotic community we were used to and became formalised, institutionalised. Facebook moved in the direction the wind was blowing but it was only with Google+ that every blogger could see the writing on the wall. The blog cluster as we had known it was toast.

Why was Google+ toxic to the blog clusters? After all, it made it easier to share blog posts, and simpler to manage comments from random passers by. True enough. But it also sank the concept of engagement with another person’s ideas by transferring the locus of community from the blog to the social network. Bloggers do all the work for Google in posting ideas or sharing links, but Google sells the tickets to this three-ring circus, monetizing the data and the social connectivity. With my cluster, I could blog at any moment and the other bloggers I was in a community with would read soon enough, using Reader or visiting the blog directly. But with Google+, posts linked at the wrong time are all too easily lost in the shuffle, weakening asynchronous communication and decreasing the signal to noise ratio. No wonder Google had to kill off poor Reader – it was keeping alive a form of life that was drawing away from Google’s core business model for social networking.

Part of the problem is wider than just the death of blog clusters, though – it is the terrific information overload the internet drops at everyone’s doorstep. After all, why settle for listening to just a few people when you can let Google, Facebook, and every other network propagate the stories with lowest common denominator appeal right to your thirsty brain? Why talk to just a few people when you could have shallower conversations with so many more people? Google+ leverages our craving for attention, and obfuscates the cost of turning virtual community into managed water coolers. Some see this as progress – and understandably, since this watchword of the previous century has turned local communities into strangers outside the internet as well.

So now we few bloggers who have kept the faith are left with a demonic bargain: stay with Google+ to earn better search engine ratings but eviscerate everything that made blogging virtuous – or go it alone and find ourselves shouting vainly at an empty room. Most have chosen the former – better to be a well-stroked pet than a lunatic alone. But we are not mad, certainly not for craving meaningful discourse, and we should not let the potential for profit steal away everything we worked to establish. If this battle is worth fighting, our valiant battlecry could be: ‘Bloggers of the world re-unite! We have nothing to lose but our revenue chains!’

Or perhaps I am wrong – perhaps Google+, or whichever social network you choose to blame, is actually a massive improvement over the old system. They have certainly acquired all the traffic. But I am slow to jump from the premise ‘the social networks have everyone’ to the conclusion ‘the social networks must be better’. For me, if for no-one else, they are a huge step down from what the best of the old blogging communities achieved – what Terra Nova and BoRT could do for games, for instance – and I am keen to find ways to resist losing this space entirely. Asking Richard Bartle about the slow decline of Terra Nova, he expressed his view that the conversation always moves and his confidence that it would reappear somewhere else. He may be right – but wouldn’t we have a better chance of that happening if we took charge of this problem ourselves?  If a revival is possible, if we can find ways to preserve everything that was good about the pioneering blog communities, we owe it to ourselves to make the attempt before it is too late.

Next week: Prototypes for Blog Revival


Bloggers respond:


Agree? Disagree? Your comments are welcome in the comments, and I especially welcome blog posts responding to this post – leave your link in the comments and I will add them to the list above.

The opening image “Dominaludus Sexagentaquad, 2009” by Christopher Locke is taken from the blog post Modern Fossils over at Genetologic Research. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down if asked.


Apologies to anyone who saw that – I meant to schedule for tomorrow. And for those who saw it over RSS, you are precisely the people it is supposed to address! It will appear tomorrow morning, sorry for any inconvenience.

Microsoft Counts Backwards

Over on ihobo today, my thoughts on Microsoft’s recent announcement. It’s less than generous. Here’s an extract:

It’s like a question from one of those IQ tests that assess how white and middle class you are: Complete the following sequence: “Xbox, Xbox 360…” The answer, we now know, is the Xbox One, Microsoft’s newly unveiled ugly brick of a console. I’m fascinated by the number base that Microsoft’s marketing department are using that has ‘one’ in the third slot, and ‘360’ in the second.

You can read all of Microsoft Counts Backwards over at, but I wouldn’t blame you for not caring. Frankly, it was a miracle I could be bothered to write it.

Chaos Ethics Complete!

Finish Line It gives me a great and weary sense of satisfaction to report that after roughly five months of toiling at the rock face I finally have a draft manuscript of Chaos Ethics at my disposal! This has been so much more work than I expected, but I hope that it will prove a rewarding book for those few it might interest. I set off to write a short book of 50,000 words and ended up at 131,929 words – oops! As so often happens with books, the story developed a life of its own…

I still need to quickly read it through and make some final edits, mainly because it was not drafted in sequence and indeed was restructured midway through, hence there will inevitably be some cleaning up to be done. However, before the start of June I should have a pre-production copy of the manuscript to share.

I am inviting twelve people to become pre-readers for the book, including several Only a Game stalwarts (yes Oscar, this includes you!), although at the moment I have only identified eleven of them. If you feel it is your destiny to fill the twelfth slot, feel free to let me know – fate, I have learned, is always beyond our expectations, although it is unlikely to be someone I have not been in discourse with already.

Once I get this sent out to the pre-readers, I shall be getting back into the habit of blogging on a more regular basis. My thanks to everyone for their patience in the meantime. My philosophical “trilogy” is so very nearly complete, and new chapters of my life are soon to begin.

My unlimited love to you all!

On the Verge of Beginning to Finish

Beginning of the End Still more swamped than a drunken Cajun fisherman who mistakes a log for his boat. But I can see the light switch at the junction nearest the end of the tunnel, even if no actual light is reaching my retinas at this precise moment in time...

  • I was on national radio yesterday, on BBC Radio 4's consumer affairs show, You and Yours, commenting on (of all things) the portrayal of disfigurement in videogames. It’s a step up from local radio, to be sure! Slightly too many 'ums' coming out of my mouth for my taste, but I guess I did fine. If you’re in the UK you can listen for the next week on BBC iPlayer. My slot is 20 minutes in, after gold traders and smart meters.
  • Now less than one day’s writing (about 3,000 words) short of a first draft manuscript for Chaos Ethics! So far inside its world now that I no longer know how people usually use the word 'ethic'.
  • Have a final version of my PhD materials approved by my supervisor squad now. Soon, I shall be a real fake doctor!
  • After a year, the journal Games and Culture found one reviewer to provide feedback for "Implicit Game Aesthetics". Alas, I don't think they understood my paper but on the plus side I can now edit it to reduce the chance that others will also misunderstand it. In journal terms, let’s call it a win.
  • Three games of Arkham Horror this weekend, all against Zhar. Result: 14 Investigators devoured. We had good fun, but it’s galling to lose so badly so many times in a row. Great to get a friend along for the last game, though – even if he was as doomed as we were!

So close to wriggling free of my obligations – expect far more frequent and regular bloggery from me this Summer!

The Final Winner

Winner It’s with great pleasure that I announce that the winner of the third copy of Dungeons & Dragons & Philosophy is Samantha Blackmon. A signed copy of the book will be winging its way to Indiana shortly! (Please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery).

Many thanks to everyone who contributed to the Spring Review Drive – you all won a book, so that’s a pretty equitable outcome for all concerned!

Fiction Denial

Over on ihobo today, a short rant about fiction denial in game studies. Here's an extract:

Games studies has thus far been ideologically united by commitment to what can be called fiction denial. Fiction (setting, world, representations etc.) is guaged of lesser importance to rules, or of no importance whatsoever. The premise of this is expressed in multiple equivalent ways: that the setting and representations of a game are interchangeable and that only the mechanics are 'eternal' (something akin to what Raph Koster or Dan Cook occasionally suggest); that players initially engage with a game via the fiction but later this becomes unimportant (as Graeme Kirkpatrick and Jesper Juul assert); that the representation has no effect on how the player behaves (as Espen Aarseth claims). Espen gives the paradigmatic example of fiction denial when he says he wouldn't play Tomb Raider any differently if Lara Croft had a different character model. I believe him. But isn't this a fact about Espen Aarseth and not a fact about either Tomb Raider or its players?

You can read the entirety of Fiction Denial over on