What’s Content For?

Over this Christmas season, I wanted to reflect a bit more on the process and purpose of writing these essays. I’ve done these sorts of posts before (here and here, for example), and it’s about time to do it again – although I should clarify, this isn’t necessarily about me and my stuff. It’s equally about the broader question of what content is for in the first place. 

So I’ve got a couple of friends who run their own Youtube channel. They play games together, and upload their banter and gameplay footage. They have 24 subscribers as of writing, and each video typically has less than ten views. And that’s fine. Obviously some people might think that it’s an unsuccessful channel and it doesn’t get major figures – but that’s not necessarily what the point is. Youtube channels can exist for reasons other than financial success or internet fame.

Another example: a couple of years back, my partner and I went on an art gallery crawl, just around the center of town. One of the galleries that we discovered is dedicated to kids with disabilities. Nobody goes there expecting great art, because that’s not what it’s about. It’s about giving those kids a bit of space to create and exhibit and feel valued and included. That’s not to say that any of them actively want to make something bad, but art can exist for non-artistic reasons.

Sometimes I wonder why I’m not making Youtube videos. I wouldn’t necessarily enjoy making Youtube videos, but there’s a really strong marketplace there. There’s a huge audience milling around the site, there’s massive opportunities for interaction with other Youtubers, rapid growth and visibility, arguably some degree of financial stability, and a potential platform to reach hundreds of thousands of people. So why the fuck am I working on a free WordPress site?

One of the reasons is the format. Youtube videos just objectively take more time to produce. I knock these posts out in an hour, sometimes two – I just write them up, lightly edit, and put them in the queue. And I like writing. I’m a writer. I don’t know anything about cameras or sound or lighting – I do words. This is my home. And frankly I don’t really like Youtube essays all that much. When we read, we read at our own pace. If someone’s boring, we skip a paragraph – there’s a feature built into writing that shows you how the ideas are broken up and contained, and it makes it easier to move through a boring article. Youtube videos don’t really have anything like that. If you’re a wanker and you’re talking too slowly and you’re being boring, it’s way harder to skip through your video and retain a broad sense of orientation within the video as a whole. I dislike that. If I bore you, dammit, you’re able to skip to the next paragraph. I want to give you that ability. It’s the ethical thing to do.

The other reason, the one I’ve kinda been hammering throughout, is that I’m happy to have a site that’s not optimised for an audience. I’m not writing as a business venture – not here, anyway. I’m not selling you these words. I’m not trying to make this project into a source of income. I’m happy tootling away at the keyboard in my own spare time.

That said, I think on some level it’s important to recognise the seeming contradiction in my work here. I’ve got hundreds of thousands of words throughout the blog. Two hundred plus posts, each usually a thousand words – you do the math. And these aren’t posts I’ve just tucked away in a word file on my computer. I’ve made a blog, and I’m publishing them. It’s work that I’m displaying to an audience. I’m drawing on structures that are much better used by much more successful individuals, both in terms of commercial return and cultural impact.

Given the overlap, then, what’s the point of my content? Why can’t the disabled kids just put their paintings up in the lounge? If I’m publishing content, surely it’s because I want an audience to see it, and if I want an audience to see it, why am I not optimising how I present the content? Why am I not angling for maximum exposure and reach? Dealing with more contemporary mainstream games, dealing with more current religious topics instead of fucking Aquinas?

I could reply that I just don’t care that much about trying to get a massive audience. It’s partly true, but I don’t think it’s the best or most useful answer. I do think the stuff I talk about is socially relevant and interesting – I’m really troubled by how Christians are ignorant about their own history. Part of the reason I talk about Augustine and Aquinas and so on is because I don’t know anybody who reads those guys. That seems like a problem to me. I also think there’s a much deeper approach to narrative that most games don’t really bother with – and again, that seems like a problem. So I’ve got specific agendas that I think are important.

Maybe the best answer is that I have other locations where I do the really heavy lifting with those agendas. I’ve finished my Masters, and I’ll be starting my PhD soon – and I’ll be working on video game narrative. My academic output is where I can analyse video game narrative in a meaningful and receptive environment. I’ve also got my plays, which focus on Christian history and culture. Those are two areas where I’m really aggressively marketing and shaping my different agendas. This website, then, is really the sort of engine room. For me personally, it’s how I keep myself learning new ideas and playing new games and thinking about new topics. It keeps the knowledge base on the rise. From that perspective, it doesn’t have to be on Youtube or be hugely successful, because it’s not my main platform. It’s a low-key way to produce content that supplements my work in other platforms or domains. Some people might find it interesting or valuable in its own right, and that’s excellent. I am really grateful for the people who’ve seen fit to follow the blog, and it’s always a nice little buzz to get a like or a comment every now and again. But ultimately, this platform plays a supporting role in addressing my wider concerns. That’s what this content is for.

2 comments

  1. Very happy to be following your blog at long last! This is a great discussion. I think it’s awesome how clearly you can articulate your purpose, both for these blogs, and indeed for your wider agendas.

    The whole monetization debate makes me think of the quote by Stewart Brand, “On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable… On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.”

    I feel like you’ve clearly articulated both sides of this tension. Your time is valuable, your efforts are purposeful, you want your effort to have an impact. On the other hand, this format allows you to share your thoughts so cheaply; a few hours writing plain text on a pre-designed site.

    I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the value of your more public ventures; your plays and academic writings. What is *that* content for?

    I’d also be interested in hearing about what success looks like for you in each of these spaces. Have you written anything on your hopes for the impact of these different outputs?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey! Great to have you on board 😀 loving the multi-part questions too. Ahh…

      The purpose for the plays is pretty clear, for me – like in a nutshell it’s social & cultural change. It’s one of the things I was trying to explore in CHRISTIAN, especially – looking at raising public awareness & understanding of Christianity while also telling stories to Christians about who we are (which is also a platform for criticising the culture & trying to make Christians think more critically about our issues & identity). I feel bad replying by linking to other stuff I’ve written, but I wrote on the intentions w/ CHRISTIAN a bit over here, below the extract:

      https://goingthroughthewash.wordpress.com/2017/04/23/christian-play-excerpt/

      One thing that’s not talked about in there is that with CHRISTIAN, the main character feels stuck between that mainstream secular culture & Christian culture – so the narrative is about taking that double focus and that kinda tension, that looking-both-ways, & trying to turn that into a compelling character element. It’s grafting the function of the play onto a character in the play, making a story out of my attempt to achieve those two goals. So it’s metafiction, in that sense – even before the narrative kinda runs through, the play in itself is already a response to the problems that Penny is experiencing, because those problems are also ones that I’ve set myself as an artist. Anyway shit I’m going on sorry 😀

      The academic stuff is probably simpler but also more difficult to explain. Like on the crudest level I just like video games & I want to understand the medium & the games & their stories better. That kinda seems valuable in itself. Like the presupposition is that ‘literary criticism’ (and other variants – video game criticism?) has its own inherent value, which – you know, kinda spirals off into this wider idea that there’s something special & maybe even like metaphysically or spiritually significant about narrative that makes thinking about narrative a worthwhile thing to do. So there’s that kinda fuzzy notion, but also I enjoy teaching & research, & academia is a pretty great career choice for that kinda work. And ‘success’ is a weird notion too, because – like I’ve just had my Batman article published, and I don’t think it’s the best work in the world, right – I’m proud of it, but I know where it sits in the grand scheme of journal articles, & it’s on the level of ‘graduate researcher’s first article.’ So it’s not necessarily going to change the scholarly landscape in a massive & deeply meaningful way, but it’s also a major step forward for me as a new scholar. So success in that sense is as much about my personal progress as about the actual work itself. It’s proficiency vs growth, right – whether we measure achievement by set benchmarks, or by the improvement on previous work.

      Liked by 1 person

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