I remember the first meet up held for Arcadian Rhythms, before the site launched. It was in a homely pub in the centre of Brighton. The walls were the colour of diarrhoea and behind the bar was the kind of décor popular in tacky seaside resorts circa 1970 – all ornate mirrors and flashing lights. There was a brightly lit slot machine in there making the kind of beeping noises that only serve to make people want to kick the source.
I was nursing a pint of Kronenbourg and a hangover that had been raging for about 4 hours at that point.
Shaun showed up first and then two or three others. We had been exchanging emails about the site for a few weeks, largely arguing over the name of the website (we were almost called Metal Gear Salad; thank fuck we weren’t) and during that period I had got to know everyone a bit.
When everyone had sat down with their assortment of ales and ciders I started up: “Right, we are just waiting for Dylan.”
People looked at me a little confused and then one guy, cherubic and clean shaven, said in a slightly nasal twang: “I’m Dylan.”
For some reason, one that I don’t think I ever explained, I thought I had met Dylan before but it transpired that I hadn’t and I had made a bit of a twat of myself. I think that set the tone of the meeting pretty perfectly and also mine and Dylan’s relationship from then on. Incidentally, of the four people I met in that pub, only Dylan and Shaun ever wrote for AR.
The main aim for the site when we launched had been to try and put out content almost five times a week, and if you look at the early months we almost managed that. There was something exhilarating about churning out that much written work and trying to think of interesting things to write about on a weekly basis. When I returned to Montreal I spent long nights in my local pool hall – I didn’t have internet in my house so I used theirs instead – drinking heavily until 1AM most nights in an attempt to get pieces done.
This early period was fun because I learnt more about video capture gear, more about editing (Microsoft Movie Maker 4 life) and more about what my style was. There were certainly low points too. I still feel bad about a shitty email conversation between myself and a guy that contributed a few pieces early on. I got caught up on the fact that he called the XBLIG scene a disaster and asked him to change it. Another time we recorded a bad podcast, and instead of saying anything I just ignored the email thread until everyone gave up on the discussion.
But really the whole approach we took in the early years was way too ambitious and, to be honest, the market was already moving away from the kind of content we were interested in making. Long form writing outside established sites is a hard thing to peddle and, without some proper motivation (be it financial or just feedback from our peers), it is not something anyone but the most ardent writers can really hack.
That peer feedback became harder to get as our initial audience grew up or, in some cases, failed to grow up. I had the chance to hang out with a few early readers while I was back in Canada recently, and quite a few admitted they were no longer playing games at large and had either settled on one particular franchise or didn’t play at all. A lot of them are settling down, getting married, having kids and worrying about mortgages.
Further to that, when the big “What is Game?” event happened we unanimously took a step to the left (even if the articles we wrote post “Big Stupid Bullshit of 2014™” didn’t reflect that, our Facebook page made it pretty clear where we stood). I know quite a few friends who didn’t shift with us and I didn’t remain friends with them as a result. It was sad to see people I had worked alongside, shared pints with, joked about upcoming releases or gone to the cinema with, suddenly seem so alien to me. I’ve never been good at empathising with different points of view but seeing the frothing anger that emerged in 2014, a backlash against something that I found utterly innocuous, actually made me retreat from the community I had once considered myself a part of. I came close to turning off Facebook and Twitter forever.
But looking at this period of time another way, I feel like I grew up a lot over these past five years. If you look at my early articles a lot of words are spent trying to figure out what it is to be a gamer, and I think that shifted as I am starting to realise that the term ‘gamer’ is not a badge of honour but about as significant an accolade as ‘music enthusiast’. Saying you are a gamer means, well, you like games, but we are starting to realise that the term ‘game’ is so fluid now that it doesn’t mean anything.
I look around at my co-contributors today and man, most of them are unrecognisable. I think we were all single at the time the site launched. I still had a full head of dreadlocks, Spann was in the process of losing weight, Shaun looked like he was going collapse at any second due to malnutrition, Dylan hated Dark Souls, I thought Guillaume was clinically insane, Potter was annoyingly adorable and Walker was just mysterious.
Today, Spann is engaged, I wear a hat a lot now that I don’t have a rug attached to my head, Shaun is looking healthy and has a lovely girlfriend, Dylan is in a long term relationship and loves Dark Souls, Guillaume is also in a relationship and now I know he is insane (these two things are not related), Potter is now an annoyingly adorable drunkard and Walker remains aloof as ever.
Games have moved on, as have our audience; the gaming community has shifted – maybe even split – and the Arcadian Rhythms team have changed. I think it is good that we put a pin in this project now rather than try and continue it. It has been a long and wonderful trip.
For those of you who stuck around and read our stuff, thanks for doing so. I imagine at some point I might start another blog but my main focus for the coming months will be to sip beers while sitting on a beach.