Somehow, I only remembered recently that I actually share a birthday with this little corner of the Internet.
Sure enough, if you check the first ever post on here (complete with old-style Midori and Yumi) you’ll see that it was published on April 29, 2014. That’s three full years of this site being in existence, after it launched on my thirty-third birthday. And while it hasn’t been three years of constant content — the regular posting schedule is something I’ve only introduced relatively recently, beginning with the introduction of Cover Games around this time last year — it’s still quite an achievement in the cutthroat world of “writing about games”.
MoeGamer is something I’ve come to do simply because I enjoy it. But it originally came about as a result of the state of the modern mainstream commercial games press — and how apparently there wasn’t a place for someone like me in it any more, despite working in the field having been a lifelong dream.
So let’s look back at how MoeGamer came to be, why it exists now and why it’s important to me personally.
For those unfamiliar with my professional history, I’ve been a “proper” games journalist on a number of occasions, starting way back in my teens, when I sometimes contributed to a UK Atari computer magazine known as Page 6 (later New Atari User following a merger with another magazine) and subsequently freelanced a few pieces of guide content for both PC Zone and The UK Official Nintendo Magazine.
It wasn’t until after an abortive attempt to enter classroom teaching as a career — an attempt that would ultimately give me a nervous breakdown and make me keenly aware of my mental health, or lack thereof — and bullying out of a subsequent job that I found myself with the opportunity to consider realising that childhood dream.
My brother John Davison (now at Rolling Stone’s Glixel site) used to run the now-defunct gaming site GamePro before moving on to Gamespot. I had previously done some work alongside my brother on the aforementioned magazines — most notably Page 6 and PC Zone — and thus he knew enough about my abilities to be able to confidently recommend me to the site’s new leadership.
I began my work on GamePro with some specific, focused features on what were hot-button issues at the time, such as the rise of free-to-play and social games and online safety. My output was consistent enough — and generally required little in the way of editing, to boot — that I was ultimately offered a more regular position, initially part time-ish, then gradually moving up to full-time on the site’s news shift. As a UK resident, my job was to fill the site with news stories while America was asleep so they would have stuff to read as soon as they woke up.
It worked well. Prior to GamePro’s closure, I was specifically praised for being the source of a number of articles that had actually drawn more traffic than usual to the site — sadly, not enough to save the overall figures, but certainly enough to register as a noticeable blip in the stats. While I was there, I made a point of covering things no other sites did — or at the very least, putting a new twist on existing stories rather than simply regurgitating press releases. It was an enjoyable time, but barely a year after it began, it was snatched away from me.
A short while later, Jaz Rignall, the now-former VP of content at GamePro, reached out to me to let me know that he was working on a new, secret project and wanted me to be a part of it. This ultimately turned out to be Eurogamer’s America-centric spinoff site USgamer, of which I was a founding staff member and helped to shape the initial direction of the site.
USgamer began with a similar philosophy to another of my brother’s former projects: Ziff-Davis’ 1up.com. The intention was for the site to have recognisable, named writers who each had their own clear personalities that shone through in their writing and the things they wrote about, with the ultimate aim being to provide diverse, broad coverage of the entire games industry, each of us exploring our specialisms and writing about things we found interesting.
This philosophy unfortunately didn’t last all that long, as soon we had pressure put upon us by the Gamer Network higher-ups to maximise ad revenue. Consequently, that freedom we had each enjoyed in the early days of the site, while leading to a variety of broad and interesting articles on many different subjects, was curtailed somewhat in favour of focusing on things that would rake in as many clicks as possible.
Where I was once trusted to source and research my own news stories as I had done on GamePro — with considerable success — I was now forced to have each and every thing I wanted to write about approved by the site’s editor-in-chief Jeremy Parish. I understood the reasoning behind it, but it was frustrating, particularly as Parish and I often disagreed on what we found noteworthy or interesting.
A turning point for my time at USgamer came around the time a freelancer named Dustin Quillen posted a now-notorious review of Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F for PlayStation 3, in which he referred to fans of the game as “degenerates” (a line subsequently excised from the review), described the game as “bringing the creep factor overseas” and having a “general air of perviness that saturates [it]”.
Project Diva F, as anyone who has followed the series will know, is one of the most solid, highly competitive and well-regarded rhythm games out there, and Miku and her fellow Vocaloid friends are some of the most wholesome characters ever created — they’re ultimately mascots designed to sell voice synthesis software for musicians, after all. To see Quillen fundamentally misunderstand — and misrepresent — the game in such a way made both me and my colleague Cassandra Khaw very angry indeed. So much so that we refused to simply let it slide, and made our annoyance and disapproval known.
That disagreement ultimately led to the creation of my weekly JPgamer column at USgamer, the first installment of which got me into trouble with Parish for “throwing Quillen under the bus” for his terrible review, but which I stood by at the time and still stand by now. Subsequently, I used JPgamer as an opportunity to return to a taste of that “freedom” we had had during the early days of USgamer: much like I do with MoeGamer now, JPgamer sought to highlight not just the new games that were coming out, but noteworthy Japanese games and visual novels from earlier years that people might have missed out on.
In JPgamer, among other topics, I revisited the topic of Project Diva F from the perspective of it being a “fandisc” specifically designed for enthusiasts to be able to engage with their favourite characters in an all-new way, comparing it to the then-recently released fighting game Aquapazza for PS3, which incorporated a variety of visual novel characters into a very different setting from their source material.
I also covered topics as diverse as Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory, Virtue’s Last Reward and Senran Kagura. Elsewhere on USgamer, I published one of my favourite ever long-form pieces on the hidden depths of otaku games, including commentary from Xseed’s Brittany Avery and Ryan Phillips of NIS America. This latter article helped establish USgamer as a whole as a destination that was a lot friendlier to so-called “otaku games” at the time than many other sites, since we were already starting to see a rise in the “everything is problematic” school of feminist criticism on other mainstream sites. Indeed, on Quillen’s Project Diva F review, many commenters expressed their surprise and concern at the apparent about-face the site had seemingly taken on this attitude, which is part of the reason I approached my initial JPgamer column as I did.
Time passed, and all seemed well for a while, until I received an email out of the blue one morning just before my birthday from Gamer Network head honcho Rupert Loman, informing me that USgamer had decided they no longer required my services and were instead going with an all-American staff. It wasn’t long after this that Parish’s friends and colleagues Bob Mackey and Kat Bailey joined the USgamer team, and I was pushed to the sidelines, forced to churn out little else but clickbait guide content provided by site partner Prima Games. Suspicious? Perhaps, but I can’t comment with certainty one way or the other, since I was kept rather in the dark about the whole thing until the last moment.
I still made a point of keeping JPgamer going to the bitter end, however, and when the opportunity to review the excellent Atelier Rorona Plus raised its head, I jumped at the chance, particularly after Mackey, who was seemingly considering taking it on, commented that, being unfamiliar with the game and the series as a whole, he had run a Google Image Search and it “didn’t take long to find the creepiness”. Sensing another impending Quillen situation, I jumped in and seized the opportunity before he could do any damage to what was by now a decent audience of “otaku game” fans.
Disappointingly, as Mackey’s review of Fairy Fencer F from after my departure demonstrated, I was absolutely right to do this, since he spent more time in his piece complaining about how much he didn’t like Idea Factory than actually engaging with the game itself. And as you’ll know if you’ve read my own work on Fairy Fencer F’s enhanced version for PlayStation 4, there are a lot of interesting things to talk about, even in the game’s original incarnation.
I started MoeGamer during this transitional period between when I was informed that I was to be laid off from USgamer, and when I actually left. Initially, I handled the site much like I had handled JPgamer: tackling topics largely on a whim according to whatever I felt like discussing, or whatever I had been playing recently.
I published a lot of pieces I’m still pleased with during this time: some of my favourites include a look at renowned “utsuge” Kana Little Sister, a discussion of how games can act as a guidebook to another culture, how visual novels such as the incredible Saya no Uta don’t always have a happy ending, how Nippon Ichi Software’s unusual The Witch and the Hundred Knight is one of the rare examples of a game narrative following traditional conventions of “tragedy”, and how the widely misunderstood Criminal Girls uses both its narrative themes and mechanics to reflect its core theme of trust.
It also became clear to me that the growing problem of unrepresentative, misleading attempts at “feminist” criticisms of Japanese games weren’t going anywhere, as perhaps best exemplified by Philip Kollar’s disgracefully ill-informed article for Polygon about Dungeon Travelers 2, a screed that prompted this response from me following its original publication and, upon the game’s eventual Western release, some of my most detailed exploration and analysis.
Dungeon Travelers 2 was actually the game that spurred me on to develop MoeGamer’s current “Cover Game” format, though it would be some time before the Western Vita version would become available and even longer before I’d actually be able to plough my way through the complete sprawling, wonderful monstrosity that is that game.
Keeping old-school “magazine” approaches in mind, I refused to cover it until I had beaten it to my satisfaction; I wasn’t going to rush things. I knew it was important to give the game a fair shake, so I used the prior months to develop and experiment with the overall Cover Game format using some other games belonging to series that also typically got rather poor treatment at the hands of the commercial press: the then-latest Senran Kagura title Estival Versus for PlayStation 4 and Vita, and Idea Factory’s Megadimension Neptunia V-II.
Since the launch of the Cover Game format in April of last year, I’ve had a lot more visitors thanks to putting out articles on a more regular, consistent schedule. My work is getting shared more widely. Developers and publishers have reached out to me on a number of occasions to express their appreciation for what I do, and fans of the field of Japanese gaming in general have thanked me for continuing my work in appreciating and highlighting this important part of gaming culture as a whole — a part that is underexplored and frequently misrepresented by the commercial press.
So yes, as arrogant as it may sound, I do believe my work here on MoeGamer to be important and significant. I may not have a huge audience or a great deal of influence, but I’m part of something bigger: a movement of people who enjoy and love Japanese games and visual novels, and who are sick and tired of them getting either no coverage from the commercial press, or ill-informed quasi-feminist ranting when they do.
MoeGamer has always been about enjoying and loving games. This is why I don’t do traditional “reviews” here; the articles I write are intended to pique your curiosity about particular titles — or to help you to analyse and reflect on games you’ve already played — and spur you on to make your own mind up about things. If I’ve learned one thing from the last few years in particular, it’s that tastes are extremely diverse; one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and all that, so what, really, gives one person the right to say that something is “bad” or “problematic” — or that a company can “do better” — if there are people out there who genuinely love and appreciate it?
I’ve discovered a wide variety of weird and wonderful games since opening my mind and being less immediately judgemental. Some of my favourite games of all time hover around the mid-to-low sections of Metacritic. And some of the things I’ve written about here I doubt you’ll see covered on any commercial sites whatsoever, and certainly not in as much depth as I have; it’s up to small, specialist, enthusiast sites like this one and those who share a similar philosophy to spread the love, because gaming is a broad and magically diverse medium that deserves to have its farthest corners explored, charted and appreciated.
Thanks for your support over the last three years. Here’s to hopefully many more.
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