Books

Reading Kill Screen #2: Back to School

by Kyle Chayka on December 8, 2010

Kill Screen Issue #2: Back to School

Kill Screen is a highbrow magazine about video games. If this strikes some as a bit of a contradiction, I wouldn’t be surprised, but it certainly makes sense to me. Being a young’en, I didn’t exactly grow up during the heyday of print journalism. There were no magazines or newspapers or any kind of periodical that defined my childhood, that I felt close to. The internet, with its forums and blogs, came to take that place. Then I found Kill Screen, a magazine that, against all my preconceived notions of print, feels like it was edited and written for me alone.

Though I still haven’t caught up on issue 1, Kill Screen #2 is as good a jumping off point into video game writing as anything is- no prior experience is really needed, though I did skip some of Ed Fries’ article that got a little too far into programming lingo for me to grasp. Kill Screen assumes a modicum of familiarity with video game terms that’s more refreshing than confusing- I don’t need to be told what MMORPG means for the umpteenth time, and I have a working knowledge of Super Mario. The magazine’s tone puts video games onto a respectful pedestal that the medium usually lacks.

James Kochalka's Super Mario comic for Kill Screen #2

Of course, Kill Screen’s editorial tone wouldn’t mean anything without the strength of the magazine’s contents. The first thing I flipped open to was a signature comic drawn by none other than James Kochalka (of American Elf fame) about Super Mario and how video games can recreate the sheer joy of existence, being able to move and do. That comic occurs on page 28. The pages preceding that include a memoir-like account of a playground game of capture the flag styled as a melodramatic Halo death match, an interview with a Starcraft expert-cum financial wizard and an excellent piece by Ryan Bradley about how small children experience the world, and how this infantile sensory wonderland is recreated in videogames. I got hooked pretty quickly.

Kill Screen is clearly aimed at a higher brow market than a game zine filled with first person shooter porn and LAN party news. These articles are self-consciously critical takes on video games, meant to fill a niche that is currently utterly lacking. The magazine goes a ways towards building an intellectual and historical basis for considering video games as a worth form of art. Thus we are given a history of Oregon Trail from its punch-card beginnings to the massive cultural phenomenon it became in an extremely valuable article by Jamin Brophy-Warren and Kent Sutherland.

By the time I moved on to a BLDGBLOG-worthy article on the lack of a virtual Australia by Ben Abraham and “Trading Spaces” by Ben Taylor, a piece that explores the mechanics of mapping space in our minds as well as in video games, Kill Screen had become a kind of print-mag crack for me. Still, that’s not to say it is without faults. Both video games and abstract critical concepts are hard to catch in photographs, and that forms the critique I do have of Kill Screen: the editorial photography, while very pretty and well-executed, gets bland after a while. More successful are the commissioned graphic illustrations that pepper the magazine.

What strikes me about this magazine is that it’s not just contributing to the noise. It’s not another compilation of cut rate cultural criticism, or another blog started to cover general interest link crap. Kill Screen edits together the articles and the writers and the subjects that will form the next chapter of humanity’s cultural output. Video games and virtual space are only going to become more important, so you better start catching up now.

Kill Screen is available through the magazine’s website.

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