Musings of a Third Rate Podcaster

Nearly two years in, and I still don’t know quite how to feel or think about the Gamers With Jobs Conference Call podcast. More specifically I don’t know how I am supposed to feel about the podcast.

I have never really thought much about any kind of journalistic responsibility or audience obligation. Is it too blunt to say that it has been more recreation than activity for me, and that I approach it with a shocking lack of seriousness and intensity? When I read in e-mails, forum postings and comments abroad that analyze the production through all kinds of sensitive lenses, I am a little dumbstruck. Podcasting is to me an opportunity to talk games with my friends.

I figured that, outside of large-scale and professional productions, this was pretty much how everyone thought about it.

Truth be told, I feel totally self-serving even addressing publicly how I think about the show. I would love to feel like the gravity of what we do rises to the occasion of critical thought, journalistic integrity, serious contemplation or even casual mention, but the truth is that I remain unconvinced in any meaningful value of podcasting beyond basic entertainment. Is there something wrong with that?

I've begun to swing across the pendulum toward the idea that the whole subversive and independent gaming community is taking itself too seriously. I appreciate the interest in employing standards of excellence to opinion, but more and more the blogs I read and podcasts I listen to are coming off pretentious and self-involved.

Yes, I realize that I just called a kettle black inside a glass house. Very well, I contradict myself. At least I’ll have the Walt Whitman market cornered — a little joke for the lit-nerds in the audience.

As I write this, iTunes and its arcane methodology for relative podcast rankings seems to feel like we are the 11th most-something podcast about video games around. That’s … great? Tomorrow, maybe we’ll only be the 38th most-something podcast and that means … what? We have over *harrumph*-thousand listeners most weeks, honestly now largely exceeding the readership of the site itself, so I should be totally invested in the podcast as the flagship of our site, and yet I invest far more ownership in almost every word I’ve written in these columns than I do in most shows. That means I need to think or re-think … something?

I read posts about the show and e-mails to the show that we got this-or-that wrong in a recent conversation about the relative multiplayer aspect of Hyper Dust Bunny Powerfinger IV, and the truth is I find it hard to care. You get things wrong in conversations.

I read that we didn’t give such and such game, Monster Closet — Derelict Ship Edition, a fair shake and thus imparted some tragic disservice to our audience and I have no idea how to respond to that. Off the cuff opinions shouldn’t be held to a higher standard — isn’t there place for just having a discussion without being embroiled in a higher calling?

I hear that people can’t wait to hear what we have to say on a topic, and sometimes I feel strangely like I’ve let them down.

Do I have an obligation on the show that I need to take more seriously? Would I even want to do the show if I did? Should I be taking in the various and conflicting feedback I see from around the web and cobbling it into some shape to improve my performance or should I keep stubbornly and selfishly entertaining myself in the exercise even to the exclusion of others.

Podcasting is a totally different experience from being a writer. I feel far more exposed at any moment on the show than I do even writing on a very personal topic. As I’ve written this very piece, I’ve gone through it a few times moving paragraphs around, deleting entire sections, changing subtle and crucial phrases to inject hopefully the right tone to keep it all balanced. Regardless of how successful I am, this medium allows me to craft in a way that podcasting does not. To me, that's the glory of a recording. I love the flaws that it permits and even endorses in the same way that some people will choose to listen to records instead of CDs.

That’s the core of it, I suppose. I think the flaws and unscripted nature of the podcasting medium is what gives it merit. I don’t care about sometimes getting things wrong or striking a poor tone, because I think it gives listeners and myself a raw and more genuine experience in the long run, even if we have to go back later and publicly make a correction. Is that an excuse? Is that justification for not having to be responsible for being an idiot? Maybe, but it is one I’m comfortable with.

To be honest, I don’t think I’d want to do the show otherwise.

Comments

I like listening in on you guys and your random gaming conversations. I think Certis provides all the organization you guys need. Anything beyond that and I think the show would lose its personality. If I want fact-checked data I'll go... umm... well... somewhere. I sure there's a game site out there somewhere that fact checks. But for this podcast, I want and expect the off the cuff comment that seems to be worrying you so.

One of the things I like best about the GWJ conference call is how you guys have a relaxed conversational style, with just enough structure (and editing) to keep the discussion from wandering too far afield. Start taking it any more seriously and it'd be far less interesting.

When I was first talking to Russ about getting involved in GWJ Radio back in the day, I asked him if he and Shawn did any kind of preparation for recording the show. I can't remember his exact response, but it was basically "preparation? Oh God no."

I like that approach to a podcast about gaming. We're talking about games, for crying out loud. This ain't NPR.

Yeah when you get things wrong it makes your listeners feel smarter.

By god I came for the finger ---> butt and I'll stay cause of the finger ---> butt.

Podcasting is to me an opportunity to talk games with my friends.

Good, keep it that way.

the whole subversive and independent gaming community is taking itself too seriously.

Yes, screw those assholes (myself included sometimes). The CC is the only podcast I listen to for this reason, it's a conversation between ordinary guys that goes into deeper criticism without becoming self-involved. There are plenty of sources for self indulgent game masturbation.

Don't sell out man!

I find that the podcasts that I enjoy the most are the ones where it is just a group of people, sitting around a table (virtual in some cases) chatting with each other. In some cases it is about RPGs (The Podgecast, Fear the Boot), in this case it is about computer games. The relaxed, easy going nature of the podcast makes it easier to listen to. Less of a chore, more something that I can listen to and enjoy myself, without needing to make sure that I catch every last syllable, inflection and turn of phrase.

This isn't the evening news, or CNN or TSN. This is a podcast about playing games. People who talk about this like it is "serious stuff" are, to use an overdone phrase, "doing it wrong". Games should be about having fun, relaxing and enjoying yourself, whether you are playing them or talking about them.

Elysium wrote:

It too blunt to say that it has been more recreation than activity for me, and that I approach it with a shocking lack of seriousness and intensity?

No, it's not. The bottom line is that this podcast isn't part of your job, you are not "game journalists", and you have absolutely no obligation to your listeners. A couple of weeks ago, when Cory took you to task on Flower, I thought he kind of missed the mark on what the podcast was about and exaggerated your responsabilities to your audience. The fact is, you can do or say whatever you want, so long as you're having fun.

Elysium wrote:

Do I have an obligation on the show that I need to take more seriously? Would I even want to do the show if I did?

No, you don't. The only obligation you could have is a self-imposed one if you want your audience to be entertained, which it's clear you do - but this level of obligation only goes so far as to actually trying to make your podcast entertaining. Stuff like bowing out for an episode if you have nothing to talk about, coming up with interesting things to discuss, having great production value, having great guests - these things make the podcast more fun to listen to. But if you take it to seriously, then it's no longer fun to you, and if it's no longer fun to you, it's no longer fun to us - we can tell.

Elysium wrote:

I think the flaws and unscripted nature of the podcasting medium is what gives it merit. I don’t care about sometimes getting things wrong or striking a poor tone, because I think it gives listeners and myself a raw and more genuine experience in the long run.

I agree.

Elysium wrote:

I remain unconvinced in any meaningful value of podcasting beyond basic entertainment. Is there something wrong with that?

I kind of think so. I don't think there is anything wrong with having a podcast that is entirely based on entertainment, as trying to do more than that is extremelly difficult and can often fall flat on its face. A podcast based on a conversation between a group of dudes about games is hard to be more than entertainment. When you add a professional video game developer and start talking about innovation, it starts transcending entertainment into something that actually makes you think. When you do a carefully edited series of interviews giving clever and meaningful insight into a recently closed magazine, you definitely are giving more value than just basic entertainment - but that requries a lot of work.
Both mediums have their place, and it's hard to compare one kind of podcast to another.

I love the conference call exactly because it's a group of like minded individuals just having a chat about games, trading water-cooler moments as it were. It's hard to be interesting, genuine and laid-back when the water-cooler keeps telling you to stay on topic or criticises your every word.

So I agree whole heartedly, the show the way it is, is the way I believe it should stay.

Hrmm. It's interesting to see you put some of these thoughts in print, because it occurs to me that the podcast-crew actually hasn't talked about it much privately! I think we each bring our own baggage, expectations, intensity, goofishnes and whatnot to the show each week.

For me, the show actually serves as a kind of anchor to my gaming week. I find myself thinking about "huh, I wonder what I have to contribute this week that's even remotely interesting" starting around Wednesday. For me, that's actually a good thing. It puts some focus in things. If I were writing about games each and every day for a living -- something I once did back when there were four viable print magazines out there -- then this wouldn't be an issue at all, but the bottom line is that it is.

And, not to go biting any hands or whatever, all that pompostic self-absorption your pendulum is swinging towards is kind of how and why I came here in the first place. On the other hand, I do see the pendulum's swing.

Thanks for the food for thought.

At any point, when you're confronted with someone who has a beef with an opinion, give them a spanking they'll remember.

I may be lucky but I find myself to agree with most of the stuff you talk about... Except maybe for Alone in the Dark but that's another story. Still, it's only an opinion and the best we can do is debate.

...
I'm still a bit bothered by the fact that people will put up with Resident Evil 5's controls because, well, I don't know why, but couldn't give Alone in the Dark the chance it deserved.

MrDeVil909 wrote:

it's a conversation between ordinary guys that goes into deeper criticism without becoming self-involved.

Exactly. I don't want to listen to reviews, and I don't want to listen to people who know they know more than I do about gaming.

The CC is also one of the few podcasts where all of the podcasters are enthusiastic about the content. Too many times I'll listen to a gaming podcast and there is just no personality. Everyone just seems very bored with it, or they need to cut it short to get back to their deadlines. I love that this is an independent voluntary effort, and I think that comes through. I also appreciate how articulate everyone is. Most podcasters sound like they flunked public speaking 101.

Don't take it too seriously, just continue to be enthusiastic about it.

Podcastsing started as a way for people to broadcast things that would never make it in the mainstream media. It does not have to be structured, focused, organized or coherent. The listener is a fly on the proverbial wall.

I was going to comment, after reading the thread for last week's show, that you guys SHOULD be more positive than negative on the games you play. You aren't playing every game out there, or even a representative sample. I play games I'm interested in, in genres I tend to like, and you do too. This, you should like more games than you don't, and you'll probably tend to like them more than the average listener. That's fine. People are too serious about the wrong things.

Funny to hear the difference in numbers. If it matters, I started as a podcast listener, which piqued my interest in the rest of the site. Now I read the forums daily (at least) but don't listen to the podcast anymore. (Nothing personal... my work has changed so I don't listen to any podcasts anymore.)

"I figured that, outside of large-scale and professional productions, this was pretty much how everyone thought about it."

No.

EDIT:

Let me explain.

I've had friends who've suggested they come on the HatchetJob.com show and I, essentially, have turned them down.

If I have friends on just because they're friends, then I alienate the listener. I'm saying 'This is a personal relationship; a private joke. Try to keep up.'

Now, even if the GWJ people weren't knowledgeable about games / industry pros, the show would still work. Why? Because of the forum. You can read what the people on the show think; you can build a relationship with them. So you're already part of the family, you're already in on the joke. It all makes sense.

On HatchetJob.com, there's no forum. There's no relationship apart from the audio. So, I don't have people on just because I like them. Also, that's why we don't talk about our friends during the show, because the listener has no point of reference, no shared experience. It's alienating.

However, I do agree that the flaws in a show are the things that give it merit. I think that when you talk about stuff that goes wrong, or acknowledge when something has gone tits up, that the listener gets an insight into the workings of a show. That's almost as interesting, to me, as the show itself.

EDIT x 2:

The basic entertainment thing. Well, yes and no. Of course it should be entertaining. But think of it this way - you've got access to one of the most powerful communication media ever. You can reach into people's homes, cars, offices....

I think, if you've got that capability, you should consider doing good with it. Not necessarily covering stuff that's outside your remit, but still doing good.

The essentials have been covered by these comments. Lots of people who think far too much about the inter-tubes have identified (correctly, I think) that 'net-life is more akin to verbal culture than to bookish culture, because of all this fluid-talkie-stuff. What draws me to the GwJ podcast lines up nicely with that thinking because it's a just a bunch of guys talking and criticizing intelligently about gaming.

I'm with Nivek and others on this page when it comes to this: Keep that fun enthusiasm going. All you really need to do is include a stamp on the page that something to the effect of...

Warning: If you feel any kinship with Comic Book Guy, hit the close button because you will eventually hate us.

That outta keep out the riff-raff.

This is all because of the emails people sent in complaining that you all hate the PS3, isn't it?

I came to the podcast, frankly, because Michael Abbot said you guys were a good listen and the collapse of 1UP left a gaping void in my week. I had read your stuff for The Escapist and enjoyed it, but I didn't start dropping by the site until I started listening to the podcast.

And while you may not think the podcast is particularly serious, Sean, you have taken a lot of interesting positions on the podcast before you enunciated them in writing. I listen to you guys not so much demanding good "coverage" of the industry, but just to hear what's on your minds and hear some things that I haven't thought of and may never have have occurred to me.

Good podcasts always seem to be taken seriously by their fans, and treated like recreation by the podcasters. But remember that for a lot of people who really love games, it can be a really lonely sort of love. I listen to the Conference Call and it's like having the kind of conversation that I wish I could have more often. So you may lavish more love and attention on your writing, since that is obviously a lot harder than chatting with friends, but the connection I feel with GWJ is forged in the podcasts.

If the pendulum didn't swing the show would get boring and repetitive quickly. I like that you guys have periods of taking the show seriously and not seriously without infuriating each other. It keeps me coming back.

But remember that for a lot of people who really love games, it can be a really lonely sort of love. I listen to the Conference Call and it's like having the kind of conversation that I wish I could have more often. So you may lavish more love and attention on your writing, since that is obviously a lot harder than chatting with friends, but the connection I feel with GWJ is forged in the podcasts.

I think there's something I wish I'd said in the article about not taking the show too seriously, but taking our listeners very seriously, and even now I'm not sure how to phrase it. Anyway, this comment struck a nice chord with me.

It is obviously something you love doing. Like the saying goes... when you are doing something you love it isn't really work... Hence, you don't really have to think about why you do it and what you are supposed to feel.

I can't believe you don't take this so seriously! I mean, anyone with a computer connected to the internet and a microphone could put a podcast out. That's grounds for some serious business.

Ok, so when did video games become serious business to talk about and in and of them selves anyways? I always thought they were about having fun, first and foremost. Maybe that's why I don't like certain games that seem to take themselves so seriously.

Elysium, I appreciate you putting it out there about how you approach the conference call. I know, even though I somehow percieved it was that way, reading it makes the idea something I can remember when I don't hear something I thought about discussed. Thankfully, I've stopped myself a lot of times from posting the 'I can't believe you didn't say that' comments many times. Mostly because of my first (and only so far) e-mail to the conference call got some on air hate. I assume the hate was all in fun, but whatever. During the whole discussion of the e-mail I laughed. A lot.

You're nothing less than a Second Rate Podcaster, my good man — and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

And, hey, isn't part of the joy of a hobby discussing and arguing about the minutia of the hobby with a wildly over-the-top passion?

But I do appreciate this little grand jeté back across the line of seriousness to non-seriousness, if that's what this is. Probably necessary from time to time to keep your head on straight.

It's funny how comparatively different my attitude toward to the podcast is than what you've illustrated here. Being on the planning side of things, it can be a bear getting all the schedules lined up, topics nailed down and emails sorted before we even get to the point of sitting down to record something. While the act of recording the show in the moment is pretty much as you say, getting to a place where you have that structure to work within requires a fair bit of time and dare I say, serious effort. More so when there's a guest.

It's actually a lot like the D&D campaign I've been running. I'll spend five hours on a weekend planning and creating for a four hour session a few days later. For the players it's just a good time and there's a structure in place to have fun in. For me it's fun to do when you have that outline ready to go, but getting there requires some real commitment.

So I feel a bit more responsible about what I say and how the show goes when we do it. Not to the point that I feel like we have to hold to some nebulous standard of integrity and accuracy, but that the preparation I do beforehand is going to result in a show that reflects all the awesome stuff that has been mentioned already. It doesn't happen by accident, that's for sure.

Ah, the growing pains of fame.

I just want to say that you should approach the podcast however you want to. One of the things that I always hated about the 1up podcasts is that a lot of stuff was forced and scripted because they had to try and keep their jobs. Granted, I didn't feel/see that wall too often, but . . . . (Imagine if Shawn had been allowed to do all the things he wanted to do. The whole damn show would've been him rapping in French. :P)

Stay true to yourself. The people will follow. Well, except for the trolls. No one can speak for the trolls.

I think 1Dgaf has struck on something concerning the forum being the place where we have come to "know" the podcasters, and so when we listen-in on the conf. call, we're part of the "in" crowd. We get those jokes and references. This dovetails nicely into what Rob Zacny above said which Elysium called out:

But remember that for a lot of people who really love games, it can be a really lonely sort of love. I listen to the Conference Call and it's like having the kind of conversation that I wish I could have more often. So you may lavish more love and attention on your writing, since that is obviously a lot harder than chatting with friends, but the connection I feel with GWJ is forged in the podcasts.

I think that the conversation is enhanced greatly by coming to these forums (either as a lurker or sometime contributor for myself, up to the regulars here) and getting more of the in-depth, behind-the-scenes so-to-speak view. But I imagine that for the some *mumble*-thousand people who just listen to the call, many of them must obviously feel some of that shared experience and desire to participate in the sort of conversation that Zacny alludes to, even if it is one-sided for them.

I think Corey was right in calling out the intense, florid hyperbole on Flower. However, I disagree with what he seemed to be suggesting; that you should be more objective in your "reviews."

My immediate response was that it would diminish the incredible, comfortable, enjoyable experience of the show. Leave that to the magazines, and if you choose to, write reviews here on the site. But the conf. call to me is exactly what it should be: a relaxed conversation that is fluid, sometimes serious and probing, sometimes silly and bizarre. It is like a conversation about games with my friends. Where I am a mute.

HedgeWizard wrote:

It is like a conversation about games with my friends. Where I am a mute.

Yes! Exactly! I first got into listening to the CC in their early days back in the mists of time.

I liked the camaraderie, the sense of feeling that these were friends talking intelligently about a love they share for the game. What locked this in as a favorite for me was the out-takes at the end of the show which revealed a silliness and acceptance of self - a humanity I was missing in other shows.
(I think the guys in the Drunken Gamers podcast share these traits as well.)

I am an elder gamer who fends off a sense of isolation by sharing your thoughts and virtual "company" around the gaming table. Thanks for being there.

Sounds like something your most recent guest would have something to say about.
The GFW podcast crew also had to re-examine what the podcast meant from their initial take to later on.

Actually, Elliot was the one who took it most serious of all, in a way. He was the one who made sure he had some PC games played to talk about if possible and tried to get the others to prepare something for the podcast ahead.
(and then there was the nerd-rapping).

This doesn't get said enough: Thank you.

Rob Zacny wrote:

Good podcasts always seem to be taken seriously by their fans, and treated like recreation by the podcasters. But remember that for a lot of people who really love games, it can be a really lonely sort of love. I listen to the Conference Call and it's like having the kind of conversation that I wish I could have more often. So you may lavish more love and attention on your writing, since that is obviously a lot harder than chatting with friends, but the connection I feel with GWJ is forged in the podcasts.

Exactly. One of the things that frustrates me about most podcasts is that I can't be part of the conversation. I have something to add, or a correction to make, and I have no way to do that. I've done my share of bitching about other podcasts on these very boards, and the frustration generally stems from the "one-way-ed-ness" of the conversation.

For whatever reason, 95% of the time someone on the Conference Call will chime in "for me." That's why it's such a good fit for me, and my favorite podcast of the week. It just seems like on some level, collective or individual, you guys are trying to speak to each other for your audience. While I might me imagining that, I love the comfortable world in my head and I'm going to stay there.

EDIT:

I just read Certis' post, and that might explain why the podcast fits so well with me. Thank you for the work you do.

Here are some more thank you's:

Rob, thank you for the excellent production. It's not a common thing.
Elysium, thank you for the humor and dissent. Every team needs the rebellious jester to balance the tyrant.
Rabbit, thank you for being old. That's not the backhanded compliment it seems to be.
Cory, thank you for throwing the bullsh*t flag every now and again.
Michael, thank you for playing MMOs. Your opinion and eloquence actually make me care about them occasionally.

Thanks Guys!