This is part one of a three-part series of articles covering the magazine A Profound Waste of Time. Part one is a review of APWOT issue 1; part two is a review of issue 2; part three is a secret.
Who knew that video games could be a profound waste of time? Throughout my life, I have defiantly played a lot of video games – hell, Aguas’ Points is a website about video games. Yet, I could not help feeling a little ashamed when I played video games instead of doing something else. The magazine A Profound Waste of Time (APWOT), subtitled “inspired by video games” caught my attention during its Kickstarter campaign in 2016. Its title illustrates a dilemma that many serious lovers of video games experience. I knew that I had to read and write about APWOT.
APWOT is the brainchild of Caspian Whistler. While still a university student, Whistler wanted to create a magazine that took video games seriously as an art form – as a medium that human beings spent their time with and growing as they play. During APWOT’s crowdsourcing campaign it was presented to would-be backers as “a bold new videogame culture magazine, a lovingly produced home to great writing on the medium and its accompanying narratives… Editorially discerning and beautifully designed, each magazine will serve to celebrate and elevate gaming culture and discussion.” These lofty goals have mostly been accomplished in the magazine’s two published issues.
After some initial difficulties, the first issue of APWOT was eventually published in 2018 and was recently reprinted, along with issue 2, in early 2022. Within its pages, deep reflections on video games are paired with stylish art and design. It beckons all onlookers hither. APWOT is a great opus celebrating video games funded through crowdfunding. When considering that video games generated strong emotional attachment to the point of nostalgic fervor bordering on zealotry amongst some consumers, it is great to see that the best content covering the subject is made by amateurs turned professionals. Efforts like APWOT are made possible by the support of fan communities.
Video games or, the broader sometimes more apt term, interactive media have become a topic that academics and art institutions consider worth discussing, studying, and engaging. There are game studies departments in many universities around the world with considerable clout like New York University’s Game Center and The Center for Computer Games Research at the IT University of Copenhagen. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City has added 36 video games to its permanent collection. When such institutions begin embracing a once niche medium, where does that leave the fans that embrace the outsider status afforded to them by liking video games? Well, APWOT does not aim to answer this question.
APWOT‘s Team (Caspian Whistler, Darren Wall, Leo Field, and Harrison Dew) and the writers and artists whose words and art are found in its pages are keenly aware that video games are important, and their popularity will continue to grow. The magazines’ main purpose is to serve as a venue, in Caspian Whistler’s words “ … to elevate how we talk about games in order to… amplify discussion about what games do for us.”
Elevated discussion on video games has been done before in printed media and college classrooms since the 1990s and early 2000s. In academia, writing on video games has largely consisted of impenetrable prose and pretentious arguments based on media studies’ reliance on postmodernism and the Frankfurt School are difficult to understand by most humans. APWOT serves as a venue for “elevated discussion” that is easily understood and accessible to most readers. This is an achievement.
“Breaking Down the Barriers”
APWOT helps to break down barriers between those who create video games and the general public who play them. APWOT has plenty in common with musician Jason Moran’s 2006 Artist in Residence and excellent treaties presented as music on arts dissemination to the public via artistic institutions and public engagement. In Artist in Residence Moran samples the voice of artist Adrian Piper from Peter Kennedy’s documentary Other Than Art’s Sakes wherein Piper declares the mantra-like thesis that serves as the guiding principle for both Moran and APWOT:
“Artists ought to be writing about what they do and what kinds of procedures they go through to realize their work… If artists’ intentions and ideas were more accessible to the general public… it might break down some of the barriers and misunderstanding[s] between the art world, and artists and [the] general public… It would become clear to the extent to which artists are just as much a product of their society as anyone else with any other kinds of vocations.”
Each essay in APWOT offers a specific point of view on game development or function ruminations by admirers of specific games. It becomes evident that these games are much more than just entertainment, their presence in the lives of these writers is important, for some making these games is a livelihood, while for others they are a coping method to deal with trauma. These are just a few examples of the stories in APWOT, and the editors do a great job making sure that they come from diverse perspectives. Still, most of the games discussed at length are mainly smaller budget indie games. Though there are also essays on games developed by Nintendo and the famed but now defunct Sega Technical Institute.
I love these perspectives especially since my tastes gravitate towards indie games, but my experience while reading APWOT could have been enriched by having more discussion of bigger budget games; how they are made and how people experience them. This is a small criticism, and honestly, it’s a fairly weak one, since APWOT has essays by designers and others that consider games made by big developers. There are brief mentions by one of the writers about his mother playing Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XV. However, outside of this and a few other essays little to no mention of modern big-budget games. Maybe forgoing extensive coverage of so-called “triple A” games is for the better and maybe issue 2 will also cover these games at greater length.
The words that are in the pages of APWOT are engaging and fascinating, there were only two out of the fifteen essays that I found to be lacking in substance, one of which is an interview. Crowdsourced projects of high quality are not unprecedented in our age of fan-based content creation. What is unprecedented is that the APWOT team has collected essays in the first issue that exceed the quality found in most established professional publications. I purchased APWOT looking to find inspiration and on the recommendations from several people. I was delighted with what I read and saw, yet I did not expect that I would find a blueprint on how to create and present engaging and beautiful content.
A Beautifully Magnanimous Presentation
The art found through the pages of APWOT is evocative of the games that are discussed. Various artists contribute to this first issue. The art isn’t just a page filler as I initially thought after first scanning the magazine. The art is aesthetically enriching and is an integral part of the essays themselves. The reader is encouraged to engage with the artwork. As the writers, some of which are game developers, share their thoughts on a specific game’s creation they also show concept art throughout the different stages of the game’s development. A standout example of this is John James’ essay “World Building: 2064 Read Only Memories.” James describes each stage of the development process whilst sharing artwork and detailing changes made to the UI layout of his game 2046 Read Only Memories that made for a better user experience. I’ve never played 2046 but after reading the essay I purchased the game immediately.
APWOT’s art comes courtesy of Mike Driver, John Short, Emmeline Pidgen, Temmie Chang, and Midio Tafuri. These are just a few of the accomplished artists that lend their talent to make APWOT more than just a sit-down and read experience. I found myself picking up the magazine from my bookcase and sitting down with it on my preferred chair by my living room window overlooking the New York City skyline and being enraptured by the illustrations, art, and graphics in APWOT. My eyes benched the skyline for APWOT’s pages. All the different elements that APWOT combines, words by those that love and make video games, typography that presents these words, illustrations, graphics, and art (either drawn or photographed), are all designed to create an ultra-cool lifestyle “zine.”
A lover of video games can introduce APWOT to skeptics – or even haters – and show them the merits of video games as a medium of cultural importance. Engagement with this magazine might even entice a curious non-player of video games to pick up Life is Strange, or a game from the Bit.Trip series, or one of the many great titles created by Sega. APWOT is time well wasted.
The success of APWOT issue 1 on Kickstarter and its subsequent reception led to the creation of issue two this time with even bigger named personalities in the video game industry contributing content. This issue also saw the staff present a more confident curated magazine. Look forward to a review of A Profound Waste of Time: Issue Two soon.