Creator Q&A: Kill Screen

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Journalist Jamin Brophy-Warren is the man behind Kill Screen, a new gaming publication recently funded on Kickstarter. Kill Screen aims to be more Paris Review than Game Pro by approaching video game writing as more than just a buyer’s guide. Jamin and his partners see gaming for what it is: a cultural phenomenon that’s genuinely unmatched in the entertainment space, where games can generate $3 billion worth of sales in just days, and an incredibly fertile ground for interactive art and new kinds of storytelling.

Kill Screen has been getting some attention — Wired ran a very complimentary profile today in fact. Jamin’s background as a reporter for both the Wall Street Journal and Pitchfork — the only man alive who can make that claim — certainly helps, as does the fact that Kill Screen is tapping into something that’s been genuinely overlooked.

Last week we sent Jamin some questions about his project. Read his responses below.

So let’s start off with the biggie: I heard you quit a job as a reporter at the Wall Street Journal so you could run Kill Screen fulltime. Is this for real?

Ha!  Well, sort of.  Earlier this year, I had dinner with Chris Dahlen and some other videogame writers and we all complained that something like Kill Screen (then a nameless, amorphous blob) didn’t exist.  We talked about doing something over the next few months, gathered the writers, convinced Tony Smyrski (our design guy) to jump on board, and put together a working draft.  But I couldn’t run something like this as a reporter for the Journal and I had been commuting back and forth from New Haven where my wife is a grad student.  The travel was killing me, so it seemed like a good time to launch something new personally and creatively.  I think about Kill Screen full-time, but since I have yet to monetize a penny for my thoughts, the venture only pays me in smug self-satisfaction.

What’s been lacking in video game writing to date?

There’s a big focus on immediacy.  Clearly, there’s nothing wrong with that, but writing on the web works best with speed and volume.  That’s not always conducive to thoughtful writing and reporting and larger publications are still skittish about videogame content on their pages.  They’ll do their one big game story a year (or two years) and then never return to the subject.  That’s pushed a lot of game writing in a similar direction.  To be clear, there’s plenty of good writing around the web and our hope is to combine some of the homegrown talent with folks with traditional print experience (like me).  But really, there’s a need for longer, exegetical, and confesional work on videogames, but not from a solely academic background.  So we’re treating this like a book and less like a magazine.  People will read things at length, provided it’s presented to them in a seductive manner.

Can you cite some articles for us to check out that you feel handle writing about gaming well?

Sure — here’s three. Tom Bissell (who wrote a piece for us) did an excellent profile on Cliff Bleszinski, the lead designer for the “Gears of War” franchise.  Daniel Radosh’s New York Times Magazine piece on Beatles Rock Band is phenomenal as well the Jason Fagone’s profile of Jason Rohrer.

What role — if any — do you think Kickstarter should play in these worlds going forward?

Well, to launch projects like ours!  But I think there are a wide variety of intersections between other mediums and videogames that have yet to be tapped.  Offworld had this great link to the work of a group called the Alaskan Miliary School.  They distill videogame sequences down a set of monochromatic squares, so the games are still recognizable, but only in the simplest fashion.  Projects like that could work well.  Videogame translation projects, such as the massive one for Mother 3/Earthbound 2 for NES, could find new life (and funding!) on Kickstarter.

What are you playing now? And can you recommend a couple great iPhone games?

Well, I started Borderlands with my little brother since I’m home for Thanksgiving.  Actually, my whole family is going to be going through the New Super Mario Bros. Wii.  It’s a yearly tradition — last year, it was Call of Duty: World at War.  My father is surprisingly adept at videogames which I discovered recently was intentional.  He called it “PlayStation Parenting.” 

I hate to admit it, but I don’t have an iPhone.  I have a Touch that my wife uses, but I got hooked on the Blackberry while I was at the Journal.  I definitely think there’s some residual videogame bias for me.  I like the contour of buttons.  Sadly, Steve Jobs does not.