So my rather tedious, if not completely wasted, day was rather brightened up by a link on Twitter to Mark O’Connell’s exhumation of Martin Amis’ Invasion Of The Space Invaders, a glossy and lavishly illustrated collection of essays on the subject of arcade games, and one that the man himself has fairly successfully pretended didn’t exist for thirty years now.
Amis was 33 in the year of Invasion‘s publication. He’s writing about games as a fellow player rather than as a reviewer, and as such he doesn’t seem likely to be unduly bothered about whether Missile Command has better graphics than Galaxians. His interest is in the experiential nature of the form, whether in the form of discussions on the best strategies in Pac-Man or Space Invaders, or old-fashioned anecdotes about writers, with hangovers.
Not having £100 to drop on a copy from Amazon, which was the estimated value of this long-out-of-print Amis work just before the internet decided it was important, I’m mainly going off the quotes in O’Connell’s review here. But still.
“Do I take risks in order to gobble up the fruit symbol in the middle of the screen? I do not, and neither should you.”
The sort of game journalism you find in Edge, an only slightly more fun variant of technical writing, is already mature in the late 1970s and has only become more mature since then, the geological pace of change rendering it impossible to pinpoint the precise moment at which Shigeru Miyamoto’s bum falls off, resulting in his shit ceasing to stink. And most of it is basically unreadable (the writing, not the Nintendo employee’s poo) unless you want to know whether Jerry Glanville’s Pigskin Footbrawl is any good or not. You don’t. The tradition of writers turning their backs on the screen and gazing out into Real Life starts around 1988 when Your Sinclair decides to become a catalogue of 1980’s culture that occasionally mentions Spectrum games. They give away a copy of Zero on the cover, but the actual torch is passed to Amiga Power which hates videogames almost as much as today’s Martin Amis wants you to think he does, and consequently gets better with every new nadir in the quality of Amiga releases.
Meanwhile, Amis releases a series of critically and commercially successful novels, starting with Money (1984), which if it was being reviewed by Edge would draw praise for its typeface and the sound the pages make when you turn them, but lose points for not being by Miyamoto. “Reading the book will leave you with a deeper vocabulary,” says one reviewer on Amazon. Amis’ authorised biography entirely fails to mention Invasion.
For long-term viewers of the ebb and flow of games journalism, you’d have to say that it doesn’t bother to aspire to the half-pissed drawlings of Amis, at least not until Kieron Gillen browses the internet and comes up with the New Games Journalism manifesto in 2004. “Write travel journalism to imaginary places,” he says to his disciples, which you can’t help thinking has been pre-one-upped by what the writer of Invasion’s foreword, one Steven Spielberg, describes as “Martin’s horrific odyssey round the world’s arcades.”
Nowadays we have a hundred million blogs, with people tearing games apart and reassembling them like a Boschian nightmare. We have chin-stroking academics subjecting them to serious critical analysis, either because they genuinely take them seriously as a form of storytelling or because they’re playing a game called Postmodernism, where they make up the rules as they go along and have lost track of which rules are irrefutable axioms and which are components of a violent heirarchy which must be deconstructed before it kills again. We have Tim Rogers who is an evil genius, the only kind of genius worth knowing. Until the PR demon ate him, we had Quintin Smith.
But what games journalism needs is Martin Amis. Martin, if you’re reading this, what did you think of Skyrim?