The Best Videogame Podcasts: a Primer

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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.

 

The Cultural

A Life Well Wasted

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

Irrational Behavior

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.

Released monthly.

Highlight: Episode One – Ideas That Died

 

The Serious

The Brainy Gamer Podcast

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.

Highlight: Episode 28 – Interviews with Jamin Brophy-Warren and Chris Dahlen of Kill Screen and game designer Jason Rohrer

Another Castle

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 RPS Electronic Wireless Show

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

Three Moves Ahead

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.

Released weekly.

Highlight: Episode 29 – Getting Started

 

The Comedic

One Life Left

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.

Released weekly.

Highlight: Season 5 Episode 22 – Framing It

Idle Thumbs

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!’”

Released weekly.

Highlight: Episode 44 – Salacious Thumb

 

Bonus Round

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.

Hardcore History

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.

The Moth Podcast

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.

Radiolab

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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Fraser Allison

Fraser comes from a long line of tinkerers and troublemakers, and the apple didn't fall far from the tree. He's an internet addict and a friend to animals. In 2010, he completed an honours thesis entitled "The prosthetic imagination: immersion in Mirror's Edge", which you can view here. You can follow Fraser on Twitter, or hang out at his house and play Top Spin, whatever.

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32 comments

  1. Thanks for this, Fraser! I have recently begun experimenting with listening to podcasts and had no idea where to start. Though I have not listened to nearly enough different podcasts to give a fair judgement, I would say that Experience Points‘s (http://experiencepoints.blogspot.com/) podcast can be really interesting and insightful. Not sure how reguarly they are produced, but there has already been two released since I recently subscribed.

    Definetly going to hit up a few from your list in the upcoming days. :)

  2. Thanks Brendan, I’ll check out the EXP podcast. It seems to be a weekly show, which is impressive for a two-person blog. The dozen or so episode summaries I skimmed just now mentioned a good range of topics, and it’s encouraging to see they’re not afraid to talk about old games!

  3. Cool list, but I think you miss one important podcast: The Digital Cowboys. They are two British gamers who weekly talk about a range of topics in the gaming world. They usually have some very interesting guests, too.

    http://thedigitalcowboys.com/

  4. Oh, I also forgot Kotaku Talk Radio: a show where the famous gaming blot talks to a bunch of people from the game industry every week.

    http://kotaku.com/tag/podcast

  5. Thanks for the contributions, Gustav. I hope this list can serve as a good starting point, but there are many more worthy podcasts out there. If you’re interested in writing about games, for example, The Freelancers is a great resource.

  6. [...] Assorted bits and pieces The best videogame podcasts – a primer lovingly prepared by RedKingsDream. Revival Horror: New ideas in Fear-making. Are [...]

  7. Love this list but I have another one you might want to try called Platforms. It is an Australian gamers podcast that is really funny and informative. The language is a little racy at times but it is all in good fun.

    They produce the show weekly at http://geekactually.com and you can find it on iTunes.

    Silvie

  8. Now that you mention it, Silvie, my list certainly lacks any Australian voices. There’s no current Australian podcast that I listen to regularly (although some of the writers on this site used to run the PalGN podcast), so I’ll definitely be giving Platforms a try. Thanks.

    UPDATE: I downloaded one episode of Platforms, but deleted it after the second homophobic comment, within the first fifteen minutes. No thanks.

  9. Thanks for mentioning the podcast!

    It’s an honor to be listed alongside those heavy-hitters!

  10. Charles: It’s well deserved. Like Wolverine, Another Castle is the best there is at what it does.

  11. The Power Button weekly podcast on Press The Buttons blog is a very entertaining, informative and humorous program. The three panelists. formally with Kombobreaker, have been together for years. They also review games and related industry news independently for several outlets. The shows focus on topics of the day and usually feature a well known industry guest. Definitely worth a listen.

  12. giantbomb.com’s bombcast over 2 hours of everything you want in a gaming podcast. I’m looking for others to listen to. Besides my favorite I listen to invisible walls, epic battle cry, kotaku tr, sarcastic gamer, ign podcast beyond, ign game scoop, cagcast, idle thumbs, and as a nongame podcast.. The 404.

  13. A couple more that deserve a mention (since I just found this) are

    The Gamers With Jobs Conference Call (more acedemic)
    Drunken Gamers Radio (comedy)
    Massively Speaking (MMORPG’s)
    Game On! (another good Aussie podcast)
    Shut Up Were Talking

    I look forward to all these, though I don’t listen to all of them every week.

  14. I’ve been listening to the Eat Gamer Show on itunes for a while now and it’s very informative.

    The host is kind of like a video games speculator and the show is brief enough that I can finish a whole episode on my half hour commute to work.

    He’s also on web at eatgamer.com but mostly uses the site to notify people of new shows.

  15. Hey man, just wondering if this sort of vod floats yur boat, we’re calling it the 321 show and yeah it’s animated and edited.

    If you get past 2 minutes you’ll know if you like or not.

    We’re 5 seperate dudes all involved in gaming on some level and came together to do a night of podd’n then Dan said he would animate and bang like that we have a sembelance of a show..

    would be indebted for any advice, though we know we already suck:)

  16. Oh yeah keywords: 321show ep1.

    and apols to anyone who reads i thought this was a private message, ah well.

  17. Great list. I’m a big fan of Video Game Hangover too:

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/video-game-hangover/id414159700

  18. I really love the D Pad D Bags Podcast! They go off topic a lot, but it’s really hilarious.

    http://www.dpaddbags.com

  19. ManaTank has a really funny podcast. Great gaming related news but the thing that keeps me coming back is the fact that I constantly find myself laughing out-loud every single episode and there’s a new one EVERY week, which is bonus.

    For anyone interested it can be found here, http://manatank.com/category/podcast/ , or on iTunes.

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