We at RedKingsDream are cursed with double lives. If there were twice as many hours in a day, we might devote half of them to playing and talking about games. But other duties call; with the demands of jobs, education and family, it can sometimes be hard to make time for games.
Lately my days have been divided unevenly between sleep, study, two jobs, meals and occasionally cleaning the house; the spaces between these are spent in monotonous and repetitive train journeys. It leaves little time for games, but I have one way to stay in touch with the culture: podcasts. I started listening to podcasts a few months ago, and at first I wasn’t sure where to begin. The iTunes directory of videogame podcasts is… intimidating. I couldn’t remember anyone talking about it much. A web search for “best video game podcasts” turned up only a handful of recommendation lists, all dominated by shows in the distinctive genre of Four Chucklehead American Game Journalists Talking About Game News And Making Dick Jokes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I don’t really care for the PR-driven news/previews/announcements cycle that dominates these shows and I’d like a little more variety.
Lacking a reliable guide, I decided to map the territory for the benefit of future podcasts newbies. I listened to dozens of podcasts at first, gradually whittling them down to a shortlist based on highly scientific metrics such as “boredom”, “wincing”, “smarts” and “laffs”.
This is a sampler of some of the best. If you’re new to game podcasts, this is a good starting point, and should give you some idea of the wide range of approaches to the subject.
Robert Ashley’s brilliant, irregular “internet radio show”, which would tower over everything else on this list if not for its sparse release schedule. As the host explains in the first episode, The Death of EGM, “Each episode will focus on one particular subject in videogaming… or sort of about videogaming, or maybe not about videogaming, I won’t make any promises.” Ashley has the voice of a stoned jazz singer and the approach of an investigative journalist, favouring human interest stories over videogame product news.
A Life Well Wasted is the only videogame podcast I would recommend without reservation to people who were not interested in games.
Released months apart, at increasingly long intervals.
Highlight: Episode One – The Death of EGM
The podcast of Irrational Games, creators of BioShock and System Shock 2. Not a source of product news but a profile of the people behind the game, with episode themes such as Our Nerdiest Secrets and What Are We Afraid Of? Hosted by Shawn Elliott, a veteran of many podcasts, including the popular series 1Up Yours and GFW Radio. The interviews and features are tightly edited, interspersed with music and commentary from Elliott.
Highlight: Episode One – Ideas That Died
The Brainy Gamer is theatre professor Michael Abbott’s thoughtful soapbox / community-building exercise for game criticism. For the podcast, he draws in interviewees from all over the gaming landscape, with a particular focus on bloggers who think and write critically about games. Abbott tries to discuss games deeply without being obscure or inaccessible, and he generally hits the mark. He’s an engaging enough speaker if you’re interested in the topic.
Episodes are released about 10-15 times per year, but they tend to come in bursts.
The podcast of Game Design Advance, a game blog with connections to New York University. Each episode is an interview with a game maker or theorist. It’s quite straight-laced, focusing on fairly academic questions of game design theory. It’s more educational than entertaining, and can be quite dry, depending on the guest.
It seems to be recorded in a café or a bar; the background noise can sometimes be distracting.
Released about twice a month.
Highlight: Episode 4 – A Conversation with Jesper Juul
The More-or-Less Serious
The podcast of Rock Paper Shotgun, featuring game journalism luminaries Kieron Gillen, John Walker, Jim Rossignol, Alec Meer and occasionally Quintin Smith. This is the kind of podcast you listen to because you respect the minds of its hosts; god knows it’s not for the audio quality.
Its deceptively chatty manner hides exceptionally well-informed discussion about (usually) new games. And off-colour jokes. And Kieron being mean to John.
Highlight: Episode 28
A strategy gaming podcast. Hardcore strategy geeks butt heads over obscure details of obscure strategy games and talk too much about obscure ancient board games. Tempers flare. Names are called. Any game you’ve heard of is dismissed as childishly simplistic. This is the realm of true nerdiness, and it’s glorious.
The show features a variable roster of five panellists, all of whom are current or past games writers, but only one of whom is a brain surgeon.
Highlight: Episode 29 – Getting Started
An actual radio show in downloadable form rather than a podcast per se, hosted by Ste Curran and Simon Byron, two veteran British game journalists, and Ann Scantlebury, a woman whose qualifications are thus far mysterious. It takes videogames as seriously as they deserve, which is usually “not at all”. It also features music, poetry, spoken-word dramas and miscellaneous other bits and pieces. It’s a lot of fun.
Highlight: Season 5 Episode 22 – Framing It
Easily one of the most entertaining games podcasts in operation and, as a bonus, also one of the sharpest. Remarkably well-informed commentary on current games mashed up with rapid-fire stupid jokes and, occasionally, songs – you may have already seen the Space Asshole video. It accumulates in-jokes faster than it releases episodes, and it will make you laugh inappropriately on the bus. “IGN says, ‘It will blow you away!’”
Highlight: Episode 44 – Salacious Thumb
There are, of course, many great podcasts unrelated to videogames. They’re not the focus of this write-up, but as a footnote, these three shows are well worth your time.
Tales of the most dramatic moments in human history, often focusing on topics that are sorely neglected by the high school view of history. The host has a forceful, slightly unhinged speaking style that suits the subject matter well. Two series that are particularly worthy are “Punic Nightmares”, on the ancient wars between Rome and Carthage, and “Ghosts of the Ostfront”, on the Eastern Front in World War Two.
True stories told live without notes in front of an audience. Aside from being autobiographical, the stories differ widely: one week may be the tale of a misjudged wedding toast that ended a friendship, and the next may be the story of a shipwreck survivor. The quality is always very high, and at 10 to 20 minutes per episode, it never outstays its welcome.
A brilliant weekly show about science. Each episode covers a topic, from the effects of stress on the human body to the ways emergent behaviour patterns form in nature and in human networks. This is an A-list show; if you listen to any podcasts at all, you probably already subscribe to this.
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