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Controller Freak

Chad Sapieha leads you deep into the world of games, covering gaming trends

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The cover of game journalist Mather Kumar's zine, exp. (Mathew Kumar)
The cover of game journalist Mather Kumar's zine, exp. (Mathew Kumar)

In games, it's all about the exp. Add to ...

There are essentially two types of game journalism: that which is read for information (news, reviews, previews), and that which is read simply because the reader loves games. Mathew Kumar, a transplanted Scot who has spent the last five years living in Toronto, writes both.

Examples of the former can be found in pieces he's written for The Globe and Mail (though, it's worth noting, I've never met him in person), as well as dedicated gaming rags including GamesMaster, Game Reactor , and Edge .

Perhaps the most compelling example of the latter is a zine that he began writing and self-publishing last year called exp., available here for $5 per copy. He was kind enough to send the first edition my way for perusal, and I was quite taken with what I read.

The zine's 22 pages of content, bound inside a modest yellow card stock cover, is mostly devoid of pictures, meaning that the words must stand on their own. They do. The seven pieces within, which cover games dating as far back as 15 years, aren't really reviews or even evaluations, but instead artistically scribed documentations of recent experiences he had with them (hence, the publication's clever double entendre title).

The first work is a perceptive series of mottled verses about Trials HD , a punishing motorcycle racing game that demands perfection. In each of its six stanzas Mathew (intentionally) struggles to come up with the right words, starting again and again, creating a shrewd metaphor for the game's action, which requires players to try and re-try to discover the ideal way to navigate certain sections of track.

Another story thoughtfully tackles Punch-Out!! 's use of cultural stereotypes to delineate the foes players go up against. Mathew explains how he intended this particular piece to be a "a poem that ran from Minor to Major Circuit with one choice ethnic slur per boxer." But then he realized that there might be more to these seemingly playful caricatures than first met his eye. He cites a personal experience in which he called Irish pugilist Aran Ryan a "mick" out of frustration while playing. Is this seemingly harmless little game somehow colouring our thoughts regarding particular kinds of people? We are left to wonder.

Each piece approaches its subject from a different perspective. His take on Super Metroid is actually a sublime restructuring of the game's control scheme. He reduces Metal Gear Ac!d for PSP to a set of rules for a do-it-yourself board game. And his story about S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl cleverly changes from a description of one of the game's scenes written as though he is currently living it to a personal meditation on the sort of horror that he's looking for from his entertainment and then back again.

Through it all, Mathew slowly establishes a kinship with his readers by reporting on the experience of playing in an unusual, intelligent, and exceptionally personal way. It doesn't matter whether you agree with his take on any of the games he writes about (indeed, based on what I read in this issue I'm pretty sure he and I have somewhat different taste in games); what matters is that we're connecting with someone who clearly loves games and takes them seriously enough to create thoughtful, meaningful commentary.

I'm not sure when Mathew will publish the next issue. Hopefully soon. Game journalism could use more writing of this caliber.

Follow me on Twitter: @ chadsapieha

 

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