The United Kingdom is often thought as an exotically grey and rainy home of all things intelligent. It’s probably just the accents – that go-to inflection of all things powerful, space faring, or historical. The game’s scene across the Atlantic is also somewhat of a cult wonder to Americans, at times. From Crackdown to Thomas Was Alone to LittleBigPlanet, some of the strangest, most memorable games come from the area. It’s only fitting, then, that their game critics are also cut from a different cloth. Enter Keza MacDonald: a word-wrangler of the highest regard. Must be something in the water over in Scotland.
The early half of MacDonald’s career as a video game journalist was that of a freelancer, contributing features and reviews to outlets like Eurogamer and VG247. Even though she would settle into an editor’s slot for IGN, the world’s premier gaming site, she almost always embodied an indie spirit. She wrote longform pieces for a site not so known for them. Even when writing something more mundane, say a preview or some sort of news follow up, there was still an organic sense of reverence in her words. Her work doesn’t have that overly redacted sterility of her contemporaries, a feature of her style that beams brightly when compared to others, especially other people who write the same things.
Enter her Dark Souls review, probably my single favorite piece of games related writing. It does what a review should do – tells you what the game’s about, what it plays like, what’s good and bad about it, etc. – but that’s only the beginning. She had spent dozens of hours being the tip of the spear, plunging into the sort of focused and demanding gameplay the series would be known for, before the series was really even known. Her battle of wills with the title, a conflict of attrition between her desperate need to light another bonfire or ring a bell, and the game’s callous and efficient quest to stop her, was the most compelling story of the piece.
Her personal anecdotes while experiencing some of the games features did a much better job describing their impacts on the title than simply describing them to me. As death is a central focus, both narratively and mechanically, her stories about constantly dying, how the long term stay in Lordran can be mentally poisoning, and how the small moments she shared watching other phantoms huddle around her bonfires or heard the bell tolling for a boss off into the distance, does an incredibly poignant job of making me understand this somewhat nebulous idea. In short, she uses her words.
I’m not the only one who thinks she’s pretty good at this. In 2012, that Games Media Awards gave her the Games Writer of the Year trophy for her article “Internet Spaceships are Serious Business.” The article covered EVE Online and CCP’s quiet revolution, and is one of the rare moments where I felt like our genre can be about more than “what’s happening and why” style work.
She’s since left IGN after a brief semi-freelance situation with them, and is now Editor of Kotaku UK, which will launch sometime soon (we hope). So long as she can continue making our genre look just as good (if not better) than other journalistic pursuits, I don’t care where she does it. She is gamings most uniquely eloquent and sophisticated critical voice, and is leading the charge as far as the care we take in the words we use to describe this thing we all love, whether she knows it or not. We can banish the stereotype of gamers as controller-clutching demi-adults who only speak in half sentences and movie quotes when we read her work, because it is tailored with the same care and quality as a writer for the New York Times would a spread about more important things.