few weeks ago, I did what no self-respecting young person in the digital age should ever do: I subscribed to a magazine. Like, an actual, physical, delivered-to-my-front-door, hold-in-my-hand magazine. This magazine doesn’t appear in my Google Reader, none of its articles will be linked on Twitter, and – astoundingly – I paid real cash money for this product. It’s the year 2010, and I’m paying money to read things other people write about video games. Weird, right? I know.
I’m talking about Kill Screen, a gaming magazine dedicated to the symbolic power of print. The magazine contains writing from writers new and old, amateur and professional. The contents range from straightforward journalism to personal pieces to interviews to art, all focused on the culture of gaming and gamers. If you don’t really remember what magazines look like, rest assured that Kill Screen nails that retro aesthetic: the magazine is printed on high quality paper and is beautifully arranged, presented with artful photographs and illustrations (and a minimum of actual game screenshots). As a meaty, ad-free, 96-page quarterly, it feels more like a book than a periodical. Holding it in my hands, it feels substantial and weighty, like something this old ought to feel.
I think it’s kind of funny that Kill Screen is exclusively a print magazine. Not Ha Ha funny, but funny. The decision to publish a print magazine is obviously a symbolic one. Print is associated with integrity, with prestige, and with a permanence that the Internet doesn’t have (or is even opposed to). When I hold an issue of Kill Screen, I’m holding the tradition of the printing press. I understand, perhaps subconsciously, that the real estate inside a magazine is limited and precious, and that these articles, through the toil and merit of the writers, earned a slice of that space.
There’s no difference, of course, between words on a printed page and words on a computer monitor (or iPad or Kindle or anything else). The distinction is illusory and entirely a matter of prestige, and it’s a prestige that grows increasingly irrelevant with time. So when Kill Screen attempts to do something new – to discuss games with an unprecedented sophistication – they’re relying on a rapidly declining, decidedly un-new medium. If you ask Kill Screen why you should write for them, they’ll tell you: “We will run your story in print — not online, not on some blog, but in print, on real paper that your grandkids will find in your attic.” And that’s what’s so funny, because we shouldn’t care about print anymore. The whole enterprise is doubly ironic because we’re talking about video games, a medium that took to the Internet with a speed and comfort that no other industry has matched, and that many still struggle with.
But there’s still something alluring about that permanence. Even on this website, we stick a link to our latest article on the right side of the page. Currently, the most “recent” article is over two months old, and that’s okay. We stick it on the front page for that long because it’s written for posterity. I think Jason’s thoughts on video games as propaganda are as worth reading today as they were when they were published. This website doesn’t achieve the permanence of print, but we still try to grab a little of what makes print appealing. Even if you’re reading this site in the year 2020, we hope you still find something worthwhile. And those are the same hopes that drive Kill Screen.
John Jackson of Games Aren’t Numbers recently wrote that he didn’t think Kill Screen actually felt like a magazine. He read it from cover to cover “in solemnity,” not at all like one normally reads a magazine: casually, flipping back and forth, skimming some articles and perusing others. Kill Screen tries to be normal, like a conventional magazine, but Jackson believes the magazine still feels too “special” to be normal. I had the opposite reaction: I treated it exactly like I used to treat my issues of Nintendo Power and Weekly World News. In fact, as of this writing, I haven’t finished the first issue of Kill Screen. I’ve read some articles, skimmed others, and skipped some that I may or may not return to.
It’s that permanence that lets me have that experience. If I skim a blog post, I know I’m probably never going to read it again. Why would I? Once I open it in Google Reader, it’s marked as “read” whether I read it or not. Kill Screen, however, sits obstinately on my bedside table, or my coffee table, or wherever I decide to keep it. I’ll look at it every day, and it’s not until I file it away somewhere that it’s ultimately “marked as read” – just like Nintendo Powers used to hover around my room until I stowed them away in a drawer. Kill Screen is special because it is normal – at least, what normal used to be. It seems silly to say, but it’s nice to buy into the illusion that I live in a world where high brow gaming magazines are delivered to my front door.
Of course, Kill Screen is one-of-a-kind. I don’t live in that world, not really. Eventually, even if Kill Screen is a tremendous success, I’m sure it will transition to a digital format. Eventually, the adherence to print will just look silly. But for now, even though it’s funny, I’ll pretend that it’s not. Gaming kind of needs that pretension.