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The New Games Journalism

Hemos posted more than 9 years ago | from the where-things-are-headed dept.

Businesses 20

aanand writes "Superstar UK games journalist Kieron Gillen (his blog seems to be down at the time of writing) has written a fascinating editorial/essay on what he calls The New Games Journalism, in which he discusses the future of printed and electronic games writing, and offers some good insights into where the next generation of writers might be headed."

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wow (4, Funny)

Dreadlord (671979) | more than 9 years ago | (#8643825)

his blog seems to be down at the time of writing

Wow, the fastest /.ing ever, just submitting the story was enough to take the site down.

Re:wow (2, Interesting)

aanand (705284) | more than 9 years ago | (#8643877)

It's up now, oddly, which makes me look a bit stupid since he posted the essay there as well... at least there's a backup source for it now.

Re:wow (1)

WormholeFiend (674934) | more than 9 years ago | (#8644406)

I think this is a new phenomenon... as soon as geekdom-savvy webmasters detect pings from any of the Slashdot editors, they perform an immediate preventative shutdown of their servers.

The Slashdot Ping of Death.

Printed media will exist for the few (4, Interesting)

orthancstone (665890) | more than 9 years ago | (#8643979)

Some magazines will continue to exist for the few who somehow wish to have the few, magazine-exclusive new updates about games.

The rest of us have moved on though. With the amount of information you can have at your finger tips immediately with online sites, I have no reason to go back to print media. Call of Duty's 1.3 patch came out yesterday; personally, I'd rather know that yesterday (due to the net) rather than on a cd in a couple of weeks with a gaming mag subscription. World of Warcraft has interesting updates all of the time that I'd have to wait to read about too.

I'm not sure I buy this quality of writing argument though. Gamespot's writers (and the Gamespot Live folks) often make their stories/videos more entertaining than the main mags in circulation at the bookstores.

I'd be bold and say printed mags will disappear, but I know that's not true. Despite massive amounts of annoying ads (another thing I can avoid with an internet subscription), some people still like to have a physical copy. They will continue to support a market, although the market will dwindle some over time.

Re:Printed media will exist for the few (4, Interesting)

PainKilleR-CE (597083) | more than 9 years ago | (#8644289)

The biggest reason I have found to buy print mags any more is to get console demos. PC games demos are easy, a couple clicks and wait a while. Demos for console games are a little harder to come by, probably because rental is still a big medium for people to try out new games. The magazines are mostly fluff and ads anyway, so half the time I can learn more by looking at what's on the disc and playing a couple of demos than if I spent the time to read the whole thing (then again, I still manage to browse through the mags occasionally).

The only time I pick up a mag without a cover disc is when I'm in an airport with a long flight ahead of me. Generally the mags help break up the time a bit and let me read something besides the book I brought with me.

Re:Printed media will exist for the few (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8644296)

Sorry for the Anonymous coward, but I can't remember my slashdot details.

Important things to understand about the context:
i) I'm specifically talking about British games magazines. The better British games mags simply walk all over their American counterparts in terms of writing. It's arrogant, I know, but it's also true.
ii) While I'm making up this shit in reference to games mags, the general approach applies to all game writing, on magazines or not. Of course, like the original New Journalism, it becomes a lot harder to actually get good examples of it unless they get an amount of money to write the bastard things. It's time intensive in a way that most forms of writing simply aren't.

Kieron Gillen

Fair enough (1)

orthancstone (665890) | more than 9 years ago | (#8644667)

Having not had the opportunity to read British gaming mags, I cannot speak from personal knowledge of how good they are. Assuming your claim is true, though, the idea seems much more realistic.

Re:Fair enough (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8644708)

I could be drunk and deluded. It's hardly unprecedented.

I think the general theory holds, even if it's just the net-writers who pick up and run with it though. And it's something people who think about games writing are increasingly voicing anyway - I'm hardly being original here, just trying to bring together a selection of thought and put it into a coherent rant.

Hopefully someone will be inspired to actually *try* it.


Re:Printed media will exist for the few (2, Interesting)

joeljkp (254783) | more than 9 years ago | (#8648902)

Having read both PCGamer UK and PCGamer US, I would have to disagree, at least based on this one example. The UK version is written like a games-oriented Maxim, while the US version is written in a much more professional and in-depth manner. Not that that's saying much.

Re:Printed media will exist for the few (2, Informative)

AllUsernamesAreGone (688381) | more than 10 years ago | (#8654455)

Try reading PC Zone instead, that tends to be rather better in that respect.

Re:Printed media will exist for the few (1)

oceanclub (654183) | more than 9 years ago | (#8645036)

I could be an innate Luddite (and anyone with a thousand books in their small apartment could probably be accused of that), but despite I am incredibly stingy with my online spending, I always pay for a PC games mag every month (the very one that Kieron was a regular contributer to in fact), since I like reading either on the go or over dinner - i.e., not on a computer. Reading newspapers on a PDA is fine, but for games reviews, I really do prefer full-colour glossiness. And even with broadband, a DVD of demos and mods is welcome.


I can tell you what it doesnt need. (4, Funny)

darkmayo (251580) | more than 9 years ago | (#8644002)

More advertisments with hip dressed posers holding there new console and looking all edgy with there semi-emo coolness just dripping from the photo...

more titties and celebrities who got paid more than what you make in a year for giving a little blurb about some game that "Omg I think its like totally cool"

More sidetalking taco goodness.

More articles that just make gamers look like morons who will snap up whatever POS they are hocking just because some guy name "Extreme Tony" who is as hip and cool as the guy in ad for a sidetalking taco says we should buy it.

More bullshit in general.

Re:I can tell you what it doesnt need. (1)

Ayaress (662020) | more than 9 years ago | (#8646423)

I could live with all of that if they got rid of the patronizing advertisements (such as those for the aforementioned sidetalking taco).

insert credit's been here before... (2, Informative)

phoenixquill (764583) | more than 9 years ago | (#8644012)

insert credit [] addressed many of these same points in their feature Journalism: The Videogame [] .

GMR Magazine (4, Interesting)

bigman2003 (671309) | more than 9 years ago | (#8644114)

At EB Games they had/have some deal where when you become a 'member' you get GMR magazine for free. Well, sometimes if you are selling a lot of games back, you'll make more money by 'becoming a member' (giving $10 bucks- Homestarmy *2). And 'members' get a free magazine.

So- basically you get a subscription to GMR for free.

I think this is one of the best games magazines out there. There are TONS of funny little tidbits throughout the magazine, on the bottom of the page, at the end of the reviews, etc. that you need to go looking for- kind of like Mad magazine.

Even the stupid listing of their staff is usually pretty funny- and the 'letters from subscribers' section is one of the most entertaining reads I get all month. It is as if someone combed through Slashdot Games and found the best 10 posts and put some 'snappy answers to stupid questions' reply.

At first I thought I woulnd't like the magazine, because it is multi-platform. I really don't have any reason to read about a Gamecube exclusive- I don't have a GC. But I read every article in the magazine, because it is written in an entertaining way. And now I am much better informed about what is happening out there in the gaming world.

I also read the 'Official Xbox Magazine' - because it has demo disks each month. Unfortunately this magazine suffers from some serious fan-boyism- which is to be expected from the 'Official' magazine. So trusting the previews or reviews of games is difficult, because they buy/sell ALL of the hype.

If EB ever offers you some stupid membership, with a magazine- give it a shot. Because you gotta read something while sitting on the toilet.

Re:GMR Magazine (1)

erasmus_ (119185) | more than 9 years ago | (#8647382)

Yeah, I've definitely learned to adjust my expectations of OXM reviews being accurate. For example, this month, despite their glowing review of Breakdown, and the decent demo, I just couldn't shake the feeling that the graphics and the jumping would make the game mediocre. So after waiting for more reasonable reviews from IGN and GameSpot, which bashed the game for its many problems, I'm glad I didn't rush out and buy the game. I might still rent it though, but I don't see how OXM could have given this game an 8.6/10.

The Actual, Genuine Text (2, Interesting)

popsimax (764591) | more than 9 years ago | (#8644191)


This may turn a little manifesto, but forgive me. It's a juvenile form, but such posturing can occasionally serve a purpose. And sometimes, as Kate Bush's Cloudbusting is currently informing me, just saying it could even make it happen.

I return from Delfter Krug and an evening with comrades. After the traditional lusting after barmaids and discussing the various challenges facing the geek nation, we turn to one of the conversations that I, as a devotee of the gaming press, prayed that was happening somewhere in the universe at any particularly moment.

It was, simply, Games Journalism: Where now?

The money men are worried - and have been worried forever - about the encroaching nature of the internet on mags. They've got a point. Games magazines are, primarily, buying guides, offering either information about forthcoming games or definitive reviews of said shiny consumer items. What to get excited about and what to put money down on, basically. Web coverage does both, and usually quicker.

Secondly, they operate as a shit filter. You buy a mag so you don't have to spend all your life doing the necessary research to find everything out youself: A digest of what's knowing in gaming. While keeping track of what's actually worthwhile with forthcoming stuff is a little trickier , sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic handily gather every web review in existence together and average the score. Assuming equality of judgements - which is a big assumption, but outside of the current piece's mandate - this is perhaps the finest shit filter ever invented. Anything genuinely good will be picked up. Abstractly, anyway.

So why buy mags?

Mag's offline abilities and toilet-based browsability are one thing, clearly. The second traditional reason is that they're mostly - and there's exceptions, clearly - hugely better written. If you want a little entertainment with your information, mags are where to turn.

Ironically enough, you'd be hard pressed to find a money man who actually believes this point. While none have quite dared say it to my face yet, an increasing number are opining in smoky boardrooms that the quality of writers simply doesn't affect a games magazine sales so they might as well turn to recruiting armies of kids who don't know better straight from college, burning them out in a year, and then getting another set. There's been companies who have worked on this assumption ever since the dawn of videogame journalism, and it's an attitude that appears to be spreading.

The reason why the money-men's line has been gaining credence is that things are pretty tight in publishing. Sales of this generation of magazines have been nowhere near what they'd expecting. The biggest selling British games mag circa this period in the games console cycle was 450,000 or so. The current best-selling title has managed 200,000. This doesn't look good on spreadsheets, so they're tightening their belts and looking for places loose a few pounds. Creating a culture where Editorial is basically disposable is one, certainly.

However, it's in these periods of a magazine's industry's life that comes the chance for radical change. When things are bad, it's a war between money-men who want to keep profits by reducing costs and the editorial who want to keep profits by being *better*. The idea of "being better" is somewhat alien to the money-people, who've pretty much forgotten any idea of what creative impulses actually are - or, more relevantly, the ability to have faith in anyone else's.

So, to choose a parallel, at the turn of the millennium the money men came to prominence in the music mags, and pretty much destroyed them all. In a similar situation in the seventies, the music's press slump was reversed by discovering a new underground to write about and new writers to express their love of in increasingly imaginative ways. Ideally, since I selfishly enjoy writing about games while still wanting to be able to meet my gaze in the bathroom mirror, I'd prefer the latter.

In other words, it's war for the future of games journalism. The default win position is for money-men - they hold all the power, after all. It's up to editorial to just prove them wrong through an act of magic, since that's what all creation actually is. The good news is that there's a fair few editors who realise this, and are conjuring up their master-plans to create a space to express this sort of thinking. I won't name them, because it'll just embarrass the fellows. Hopefully, there's more I don't know about.


There's also all sorts of games writers who don't give a toss about the craft of what they're doing, either having completely forgotten why they were doing it in the first place after being stomped by their superiors or never really had a clue in the first place. In many ways, it's these people rather than the money-men who are the enemies. The money-men - as their name suggests - are only interested in money. That's fine. It's like objecting that a Tyrannosaurus Rex doesn't chomp down on tofu. The mediocre hacks filling positions that could be taken by people wanting to write brilliantly are what will kill the British games magazine. Not that they're bad people, you understand - many are utterly lovely. It's just that they're wasting the potential of the form with their total lack of commitment and/or talent.

If Games Journalism is just a job to you, you really shouldn't be doing it. The word should be "vocation".

Right - everyone up to speed and are now either thinking I'm an arrogant wanker for calling other people hacks after some of the rubbish I've written or - in the case of my peers - wondering if I'm talking about them. Oh, shush. Stop worrying. As if it matters what I think about you. The question is, am I *right* and what are you going to do to prove me wrong.

What do I suggest doing about it?

Well, I'm not suggesting we do a Pol-Pot and year-zero everything we've ever done. The main body of games journalism will remain the same. Reviews that don't serve their basic consumer-informing purpose are worse than useless. Previews - one of the most despicable words in the lexicon, randomly - are still going to appear. What I'm suggesting is in addition to rather than replacing the old order - though I'd suggest a greater stringency when producing work that's in these more established traditions. Just be good, y'know.

In the early seventies Tom Wolfe edited a collection of writings from the previous few years entitled "The New Journalism", which provided exactly that. This journalism was intensely personal, throwing away the rules of standard journalistic discourse like the pretence of objectivity and an embracing of the "I". We're talking about people like Capote, Mailer and Hunter S. Thompson. While Games journalism - having nabbed a lot of its tricks from the people who nabbed a lot of tricks from the New Journalism people - uses a sizeable chunk of those already, it hasn't really thought about how the core of that philosophy really applies to videogames.

In the last year or so we've started. In a nod to Wolfe, I'm going to call it the New Games Journalism, just because it needs a name if this essay's going to decipherable to the human mind.

Embarrassingly for myself and my professional peers, the first real signs of this form didn't appear in the pages of game magazines, but on the net. Early-period State was painfully close to a new paradigm for games writing, but was hamstrung and eventually foiled by its elitism, its faux-intellectualism and insecurity. They're all forgivable faults, since the writers were the gaming equivalent of zine-kids, trying to find a voice which didn't sound too shrill. But still: depressing.

However, once I thought the initial burst of energy was well spent and a fair chunk of the better writers absorbed into the gaming press in one form or another, State produced something that managed to embody everything I'd want the New Games Journalism to be. It's by a gentleman who works under the name of Always Black, and is entitled "Bow Nigger"

It's a memorable piece of writing in at least a dozen ways, but is firstly notable for reading like games journalism without being anything like a piece of any games writing you've ever read. It's going to lead to a lot of copyist features, the huge majority will vary between average and utterly rubbish. Which is fine. Innovation tends to do that. How many uninspired Hunter S. Thompson riffs have we had to sit and shudder through? What, hopefully, we'll also get are the pieces that Hunter's verve and vision inspired without being simple plagiarism.

"Bow, Nigger" lies outside the main thrust of "serious" games journalism: that is, the analytic tradition. A bad games journalist would write in imprecise generalities, talking about something's "gameplay" and urging you to "try before you buy" or similar page-filling rubbish. A good one would look at the game, take it apart, try and understand how it works and inform the reader of their findings. Some people did it in a reductionist manner, taking a game to its smallest dynamics and components. Others - like Owain Bennallack's memorable description of the Sims as an "Apologia for Consumerism" - managed to take a more holistic approach. The apex of the tradition, if only because it's the only example where someone got the entire length of a book to talk about the mechanics of the form in a sustained and intelligent fashion, was Steven Poole's "Trigger Happy"

No matter what the precise form this tradition takes, it works of a single assumption; that the worth of a videogame lies in the videogame, and by examining it like a twitching insect fixed on a slide, we can understand it.

New Games Journalism rejects this, and argues that the worth of a videogame lies not in the game, but in the gamer. What a gamer feels and thinks as this alien construct takes over all their sensory inputs is what's interesting here, not just the mechanics of how it got there. Games have always been digital hallucinogens - but games journalism has been like chemistry, discussing the binding reactions to brain sites. What I'm suggesting says what it feels like as the chemical kicks in and reality is remixed around you.

While drug-poetry is certainly one approach to the subject matter -and one the earlier State experiments turned to - it's not the strongest. "Bow, Nigger", while being clearly totally subjective, austerely embraces Hemmingway's cleanness. The tone has to be confessional - what happened to you and how it made you feel - or people simply won't believe it, or be interested. Pub anecdotes with delusions of grandeur, essentially.

(One thing Sony got entirely right was their "I have conquered worlds" adverts. That's exactly it - in fact, says more about the games playing experience than a year's subscription to most games magazines)

While sections of this approach can be useful in traditional reviews - in fact, in my most celebrated review of the first Deus Ex I used a repeated motif of scenarios to show the game's freeform action nature - the required objectivity of also providing worthwhile purchasing advice limits its freedom of expression. Ideally, such segments will either be the entire piece or used in a punctuated manner to illustrate points by metaphor.

As an aside, in my first deliberate attempt in writing New Games Journalism, it's this latter approach I took. I hope it worked. In fact, "Hoping it worked" should be a real centre point here. I haven't "Hoped it worked" in a piece of games journalism for around four years now, because I knew exactly what I was doing. This is about doing something where you /don't/ know exactly what you're doing.

While rewarding in itself, this form is interesting in that it fills a space in a traditional games magazine set-up. A game will be covered hugely in advance of its release, with an array of previews, first-plays, interviews before the orgasm of the review... where after the game may never, ever be mentioned again. No other pop-form disregards its subject with such alacrity. Films are re-reviewed and covered forever. Whole music magazines such as Mojo will pore over albums that have been around for decades. Even the more recent music press will review live gigs of bands between releases.

It's somewhat ironic - or rather, impressively dumb - that in my particular corner of publishing that the second the readers have a chance to play a game is the exact point where a games magazine has stopped talking about them in anything but the most cursory manner. New Games Journalism in the above form is one way of doing exactly that, in an interesting way. From how it feels to be at ground-zero in a Planetside bomber attack to your own personal relationship with SHODAN from System Shock 2, a piece properly constructed and written with proper attention to the human condition will be entertaining. That is, it's not enough just to say what happened - you have to make people understand what it *felt* like to be there when it happened.

The phrasing in the last line brings me to the second half of New Games Journalism's dogma. "What it *felt* like to be there when it happened". In videogames there is no "there". You're either sitting in front of your PC or slumped in your front-room, controller in your hand. It's all happening inside your head, induced by how the sound and light you're bombarded with alters depending upon your whim and inclination. You're experiencing something that simply doesn't exist. This is the games-form's own peculiar magic, and what we have to explain.

This makes us Travel Journalists to Imaginary places. Our job is to describe what it's like to visit a place that doesn't exist outside of the gamer's head - the gamer, not the game, remember. Go to a place, report on its cultures, foibles, distractions and bring it back to entertain your readers.

The thing with travel journalism or reportage is that it's interesting even if you have absolutely no inclination of going there. "Bow, Nigger" - and, hopefully, similar future pieces dealing with other game-created social structures - excels in this area, describing in detail the social mores a warring culture created, all on their lonesome. Since every online begets their unique world, this should be particularly fruitful: an anthropologist would think he'd died and gone to undiscovered native heaven to have so many unreported cultures to investigate.

Now, I guarantee I will never play Jedi Knight II multiplayer in my life, but to hear about this strange world these people have created... well, it's as fascinating as the courtship rituals of whatever Amazonian tribe is being exploited in this weekend's broadsheets. In fact, it's this quality that makes "Bow, Nigger" stand out from most games writing - that it felt like a newspaper article rather than anything in the specialist press. That is, you'll be interested in it even if you didn't give a fuck about videogames. While it's using videogames as its subject, what it's really talking about is the human condition.

And that, I think, is the key to the whole thing. New Games Journalism exists to try and explain and transfer the sensations allowed by videogaming to anyone who's willing to sit and take time to read it. It paradoxically manages find a way to be more accessible to the average human being by actually concentrating on the *real* reasons why people devote huge chunks of their waking hours to games rather than obsessing in tedious detail over the ephemera that surrounds it (How many levels? how many guns? Can I "be" Goro?). It asks the question "Why game anyway" and then gives as many answers as they are people, as interesting as people, as precious.

So that's what our old-new way of thinking about games boils down to. A new dogma to drive around the intellectual motorway.

1) The worth of gaming likes in the gamer not the game.
2) Write travel journalism to Imaginary Places.

Let's see how fast it can go.

Kieron Gillen, Bath, England.
23rd March 2004, 2:04 am

This article is Ideological Freeware. The author grants permission for its reproduction and redistribution by private individuals on condition that the author and source of the article are clearly shown, no charge is made and the whole article is reproduced intact, including this notice.

Does it even deserve the name journalism? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8645016)

Videogame writing is probably the poorest in the entire publishing industry. Game reviews are worse than the very shallowest movie reviews; at least movie reviewers almost always see the complete film. You say these magazines are little more than buying guides -- well, if a catalog is a buying guide, than maybe. Previews are almost always breathlessly aroused by the thinnest drip of screenshottage and developer quotes. Reviews have more to do with the surrounding hype and the reviewer's "prestige" -- IGN's highest rated PC game is BLACK & WHITE. (Yes it has interesting mechanics. But so does Battlecruiser 3000AD. Neither are good games or good values)

It's just a pale shadow of hollywood "journalism". I know you want to justify your favorite lonely pastime but face it: it doesn't deserve to be taken seriously. I'd hope for a post discussing what they might do to begin improving the sad state of things.

Tomer Gabel

Re:Does it even deserve the name journalism? (2, Insightful)

aanand (705284) | more than 9 years ago | (#8645837)

I know you want to justify your favorite lonely pastime but face it: it doesn't deserve to be taken seriously.

That attitude is one of the reasons a lot of games journalism is shit. Of course it deserves to be taken seriously. It's just that hardly anyone seems to want to do so.

Whom do we trust? (4, Insightful)

Dark Paladin (116525) | more than 9 years ago | (#8646072)

This is a trend that I've been observing for the last 18 months or so, and I really have to give Penny Arcade kudos for bringing it to a point:

Most gamers, overall, don't trust review sites.

And why should we? We read the same hype for a game coming out in six months from a magazine or one of the new giant conglomerates of GameSpy IGN Gamespot (former Gamespot and Gamecenter) and Daily Radar (the latter which has mercifully passed on). "This game will be the greatest! Look at the graphics! Reasons to bash this other console or game before it's released!"

And when the game comes out, some reviewers will stick to their guns calling it great, some will trash it and we'll never talk about ti again, because the "Next Great Game!" is about to be released.

We've come to see it's all just marketing. It's not that it wasn't before, but back when Voodoo Extreme first popped up, it was just Billy "Wicked" Wilson talking about going to Kung Fu and what was happening in the gaming world.

Then IGN bought it, and what is it now? I haven't even looked at it for probably years now.

It's not that marketing and commercialism is bad, but after awhile it's like having nothing but Ding Dongs to eat. You start to hunger for something more. You start to wonder if your next meal will be different or more of the same.

Tycho and Gabe mentioned this when they bashed reviewers. Not just for "I like this game it's cool and you suck", but for pointing out how innaccurate their reviewers were, as if maybe - just maybe! - the game hadn't truly been played. That some "reporter" had spent an hour with the game, decided they didn't like it, and that was it.

So who do we trust? And that's probably the reason why, as Mr. Gillon pointed out, we're looking not for reviews and articles, but people. People who are like us, or even not like us - but we get to know their opinions and viewpoints so we feel like we can trust them. When Tycho says he likes a game, we know his stances on RPGs or card games or whatever, and can judge based on that.

When Timothy Long of Insert Credit [] talks about a how he got Astroboy [] off of a former bunny girl, how he's playing the game is as important as the game review itself. We know him, and while we might not always agree, at least we know why he feels that way about the game.

I read "Bow, Nigger" as referrenced by Mr. Gillon, and thought it was one of the best damn articles I've read this year - and it made me want to go play "Jedi Knight II". It's been sitting on a shelf at home, waiting for me, but now I understand how it can be played.

I wonder what will happen to game magazines in the long run. Readership is down, and I imagine most of them will wind up like either Nintendo Power - really just an advertisement for Nintendo, or Gamefan, a former magazine made of game lovers that crashed during the Dot-Com Bust.

Probably it will be as it always is: cycles. Something new rises up (like Mr. Gillon mentions, the alternative scene in Seattle from musicians tired of being force-fed 80's culture). It has underground movement, then one day somebody realizes you can make money off of it (see also "rap music"). It gets popular, then turned into the same marketing glitz, and then the soul is gone, and it starts up again.

Game magazines will do the same. I predict that in a few years we'll have a true "Fanzine" pop up - maybe all on the Internet, maybe sold through a few fans online, propped up with CafePress like goodies. It will grow, people will love the folks running it, and then it will get bought out and everything good about it will be gone.

And we'll start again. Like we always do. Because in the end, while we don't think we can trust people, we're always looking to reach out and form those communities to tell each other how we feel about what we enjoy.

Some will just do it better than others - and the cycle all starts again.
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