One of the proudest moments of my life was when I was accepted in 2005 as a multimedia critic and game reviewer by US-based PopMatters, the online magazine of cultural criticism founded by Sarah Zupko.
I don't really remember how I stumbled upon their site, but when I saw that then PopMatters Multimedia Editor Michael David Sims was looking for contributors, I decided to try my luck. He had asked applicants to email two sample works and the proposed first review, which would be published as your first article if you were accepted. I emailed my application to him and Sarah on July 29. And on Aug. 3, Mike emailed me to say, in part, "Joey, I love your witty, engaging style and would like to warmly welcome you to PopMatters."
I was ecstatic when I received Mike's email. I loved PopMatters the moment I discovered it. It's a cool site that examines different aspects of pop culture but tries to veer away from the mainstream. Its approach is cultural criticism, even when it comes to game reviews.
On Aug. 5, PopMatters published my first game review, "My Kingdom for a Monk". The original link is no longer available, but thankfully you can still access the article via the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.
Here's an excerpt from my first PopMatters review.
"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but somehow I doubt we'll be striking fear in the hearts of our foes by calling our group the Fuzzy Bunnies.
"Not that the particular group I joined for a taste of player vs. player (PvP) combat in the massively multiplayer online game Guild Wars would be taking names even if we'd given ourselves bad-ass monikers such as The Lotus Assassins or The Servants of the Plague. The bitter truth is: we sucked. And I sucked just as bad as the rest, which is never good for your self-image as a gamer when you're usually more than capable when it comes to other genres.
"Online gaming, however, is a different animal. You're thrown in with complete strangers, yet somehow you're supposed to form a party and cooperate well enough to take down the nastiest critters. True, it's still probably best to play online with the buddies you have in real life, particularly if you're just starting to discover this whole MMO craze, but hey, where's the sense of adventure in that?"
I really loved how PopMatters gave us a lot of creative freedom, and focused not on the game play, but on video games as a culture, and how they tied in to other culture forms.
It showed how much respect PopMatters had for video games as an art form, and how they wanted multimedia critics like me to shed light on the gaming community and share stories about these virtual worlds to a non-gaming audience.
Another game review I enjoyed doing for PopMatters was "I Fought the Bot… and the Bot Won", after playing the Xbox game Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict. Here's an excerpt.
"For a game overflowing with testosterone and a 'frag or be fragged' mentality, UC2 sure has more than its fair share of soap opera elements. This again brings to mind the oftentimes risqué storylines of the WWE that serve to spice up the action and present the wrestlers not just as athletes, but as characters you can either love or hate. In UC2, you not only have the star-crossed lovers Anubis and Selket, but also the tragic Lauren, who killed herself after her lover Brock was slain while trying to avenge Malcolm, whose career was ended by Gorge. The Necris Process brought both Brock and Lauren back to life. Brock did not retain his original memories and so is unaware of the feelings he had for Lauren. Lauren, however, remembers everything, and the Necris Process has left her mostly insane.
“As I've already mentioned, the Liandri Corporation has made a travesty of the traditions of the Nakhti (a race patterned after the ancient Egyptians). The tournament itself is run with an eye toward the ratings — in fact, in some matches, even winning teams will be broken up because they aren't getting good ratings. Malcolm, the champion whose long winning streak (as well as his spine) was broken by Gorge, was popular not only because of his combat abilities but also because of his charisma which translated into high ratings. In fact, while Malcolm can no longer compete, he's returned to this tournament as a color commentator. Kind of reminds you of how excellent mic work is often more crucial to the success of a WWE superstar than actual wrestling ability. Otherwise, the unquestionably charismatic Hulk Hogan wouldn't have reaped tremendous success in spite of his relatively limited wrestling ability."
While PopMatters didn't pay contributor's fees, you did get free games, as you got to keep the games you reviewed. And I was more than happy to write for PopMatters without getting paid because I enjoyed the experience and learned a lot from it.
In fact, I wrote for PopMatters from 2005-2007. I even had a new editor when Mike Sims informed us in 2006 that longtime PopMatters writer Mike Schiller had been promoted to co-editor of the Multimedia section and would now handle game reviews, while Mike Sims would focus on web-based content, including podcasts, fan films, websites, and so on.
I'm glad that I kept both Mikes happy during my two-year stint, and will always be grateful to PopMatters for welcoming me.
Thanks, too, Fuzzy Bunnies.