Mission: Critical – Press Select’s quest to prove game-writing’s worth

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Press Select is a new publishing house devoted to long-form games criticism

A JOURNALIST’S greatest enemy is the commercial reality of the newsroom: a deadline-driven, hierarchical news environment where gaming scribes desperately try to produce the best possible work in the shortest amount of time.

It’s a fun and energetic environment, but isn’t the most fertile ground for those who wish to explore the complexities of a single game.

That’s why earlier this year, gaming legend Warren Spector opined that the industry desperately needed critics “whose work bridges the gap between reviews and academic writing”.

Fortunately, Australian gaming gurus Dan Golding and Brendan Keogh had already identified Spector’s perceived gap.

Press Select is Dan Golding (left) and Brendan Keogh

Press Select is Dan Golding (left) and Brendan Keogh

In their eyes, it wasn’t so much that the industry needed better critics, but rather a format that allowed existing critics to express themselves in longer form writing.

This week, Golding and Keogh launched Press Select, a start-up publishing house for books that study and critique games.

Press Select will turn authors’ critical papers into high-quality e-publications that will be sold DRM-free in multiple formats to be read on nearly any device.

Publisher and author will split the money 50-50 until publishing costs are met, after which the significant portion of a sale goes to the author.

The pair’s idea for Press Select was born partly out of Keogh’s 30,000 word critique of Spec Ops: The Line, Killing is Harmless.

The e-book has sold 6,000 copies at around $3 a pop, demonstrating the gaming public’s appetite for such writing.

“By giving authors time and space to think things through, hopefully we’ll shape a different format that doesn’t need to replace or outmode the great stuff that already exists, but to just augment the conversation with another avenue,” Golding says.

“With long form, you can go deeper, and you go for more nuance, more reflection and consideration.”

I asked Golding about the tone of long-form: did it have to be serious?

“I think Press Select is about proving the worth of writing about games, but whether that automatically equates to seriousness is a matter for our readers to decide,” he said.

According to Golding, the 30,000-word mark is the ideal length for a long-form publication, although Press Select will also consider shorter papers.

“We’re open to publishing shorter pieces (10,000 words or so) for lower prices, to factor in more agile pieces of writing,” he said.

Critics working with Press Select include Edge magazine features editor, Jason Killingsworth, Kotaku’s Patricia Hernandez, and independent designer and critic Robert Yang, among others.

So what’s in the name? And why Press Select at a time when the Select button is being phased out of gaming altogether?

Golding explains: “Obviously there’s the old ‘Press Select’ instruction to start playing a game. Equally, it suggests the idea of a selective press – illustrating the quality that we’re aiming for, and the publishing nature of our company.

Killing is Harmless is Brendan Keogh's critical reading of Spec Ops: The Line.

Killing is Harmless is Brendan Keogh’s critical reading of Spec Ops: The Line.

“Finally, as you point out, the select button has become obsolete these days, which I think illustrates to us the longer, wider, and deeper framework that we’re looking at.

“The select button might be outdated now, but it was a daily part of gaming life for decades. Acknowledging that acknowledges something meaningful about the kind of project we’re putting together.”

The first publication is due early 2014 but Golding and Keogh are tight-lipped as to whose work will be the debut project.

Beyond that, Press Select will aim for a steady flow of publications.

“We’ll be looking to publish a book bi-monthly, but as we’re dealing with books, and not a magazine or a journal, we’re coming at the needs and timelines of each project individually rather than locking in to a hard timetable,” Golding said.

The decision to go DRM-free might seem risky, but Golding is unfazed.

“We trust our readers to support us when it counts. I’m sure there’ll be pirated PDFs floating around somewhere, and in a way, that’s great, and is in a perverse kind of way a measure of success for an ebook, indicating a level of interest around a work,” he said.

“That said, I know that our readers will want to support good writing, and if they know how much of the profit goes to our authors then I’m confident they’ll not only buy the books, but buy them with the desire of supporting good writing.”

I’ve got my fingers (and gaming thumbs) crossed for Golding, Keogh and Press Select’s authors. Anything that helps to add worth to gaming criticism is a boon for everyone involved.

To learn more about Press Select, visit www.pressselectpublishing.com.au

For a taste of long-form writing, make sure you check out Brendan Keogh’s Killing is Harmlesshttps://gumroad.com/l/fsdz

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