Memory Insufficient in 2017

Zoya is a historian and journalist of games and playful art. He is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Memory Insufficient, and a consultant at Silverstring Media.

Humans have never been able to reach further, grow faster, impact more. We contain multitudes. Yet none are large enough to contain all the possibilities and responsibilities of being in the world. Our memory is not sufficient for understanding how we got here and where we expect to end up. The past is constantly being remade, and in turn making possible futures.

As we plan our activities at Memory Insufficient in 2017, we consider our job to be making the past and future, consciously, and with care.

We’re ready to start this year, a year of great social and political importance, on the strength of the incredible work writers have donated to us over the past three years that has recentered marginalised perspectives in games and history. We are so proud of that work, and proud that beginning this March, Memory Insufficient will pay a fair rate for that work. To begin, we will commission one piece per month at 300 CAD, and over time we hope to see that rate grow, not shrink.

Editorial Ethos (revised)

We publish documents, interrogations, and resonances. This work is not confined to the traditional boundaries of an essay as a logical argument. Rather, a Memory Insufficient piece is an authored experience. Our writers use text combined with sound, video, games, images etc. to give someone a slow, reflective experience that could last an hour, without giving them one hour’s worth of reading material.

Originally a games history publication, Memory Insufficient is now as much about the future as it is about the past. It is not only about games, but games provide a useful anchor point for us in an ocean of spatial, technological and experimental media.

Memory Insufficient features don’t simply demonstrate a particular way that technology is changing the world, or a particular person who redefined an industry.

We want the material we publish: to empower people to ask how their work and their society could change in the future; to enable them to choose the futures they create with intention; to develop strategies for making those changes happen.

Interrogating our memories and fantasies

We must, at this critical moment, work to reclaim the past from conservatism. Historical stories are fantasies, built to conform to present-day ideas about who we are and how our world functions. Memory Insufficient was founded to expand historical narratives beyond the singular story of technological progress. We see the error message “insufficient” as multi-layered in meaning: it refers to the tendency to forget, ignore, or distort the past, but it also warns that our memory alone (collective or individual) is not enough for us to understand how things come to pass or where we’ll end up.

Documenting digital geographies

Games, social networks, the web, and our computers are places where millions of people spend a large chunk of their time. Cultures are conceived, crafted, and contested in these spaces. To document what is going on in digital space is a political act, and we are responsible for showing the power structures at work in those spaces. Throughout history, we have seen powerful people use different strategies to wrest control of land, attention, and material resources. Our job is to reflect how that has continued and how it has changed.

Tapping resonant structures

In music, people talk about resonance literally in relation to how sounds, bodies, and materials affect each other. In games, architecture, software, storytelling, and social encounters, similar concerns apply, and people have borrowed the concept of “resonance” to talk about it.  In all these cases, we are concerned with things that resonate with each other harmoniously or with dissonance.

Digital experiences can be built to resonate in response to some actions, and remain silent in response to others. Dissonance can be a deliberate technique, using resonance to make a statement about the fractures at work in our own lives. Constructing or deconstructing “resonance” allows us to expand our interests beyond a narrow idea of what a game is, and include spaces, structures, and experiences that are defined by their inter-relatedness, rather than by their medium.

Claris is a writer, multi-disciplinary designer, transgressive architect, and art historian. Her work seeks to complicate notions of reality, materiality, and normativity. She is creative director at Memory Insufficient and the design consultancy, Silverstring Media.

Dear Reader,

We are all drifting through time and space, some for longer and with more intention than others but all are on a journey of unclear beginnings and uncertain endings. Some of the most meaningful moments of our lives — connecting with another mind, exchanging intellectual and emotional energy — can leave little trace, even though they shape who we are, what we do, and what we create.

Letters are a crude but robust form of both space and time travel: for all of human history, and until recently, letters were the main way that humans crossed space to speak to each other at a distance; afterwards, they become records of conversations, moments, and relationships for future generations, and the authors themselves, to gaze back upon. Part of the robustness of the letter comes from its formality, they stand alone while being designed to construct a conversation. Unlike the essay, a letter is a gift with a particular receiver in mind; it is imbued with the warmth and generosity of the human relationship that created it, and leaves room for the reader to enter and receive it on their own terms.

Reading the correspondence of others has given me a sense of familiarity with an intellectual process and comradery that was at once foreign and familiar. Two great examples of this in the games scene have been Leigh Alexander’s letter series with Kirk Hamilton about Final Fantasy VII and Deus Ex, and the what-feminism-means-to-me-as-a-woman-in-games letter series Dear Mitu, Dear Emily.

It is with these inspirations in mind that we launch a new type of content at Memory Insufficient: a series of semi-regular (~one every other month) letter exchanges between myself and a special guest pen-pal. Each chain of letters will orbit a single, timely topic — something that has been weighing on my mind, or the subject of much discussion on Twitter.

We see this as another form of historical practice in the present, akin to anthropological field notes: a new expression of our intent to recenter histories and narratives that get left behind. In games and new media, interviews or post mortems are often our only view into this sort of process, and they are typically recorded after the work has been completed, constructing a narrative about the past that serves the interests of the present.

It is the hope of a field observer to take these documents forward in the years to come, as material for analysing what it was like to experience a context in time and space. When years from now we think about how games and play have changed, we do not want to be reliant on memory alone.


Claris Cyarron, creative director at Memory Insufficient


Leigh Alexander and Kirk Hamilton (2011) on Final Fantasy VII
Leigh Alexander and Kirk Hamilton (2011) on Deus Ex
Mitu Khandaker and Emily Flynn-Jones (2012) Dear Mitu, Dear Emily

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Zoya is a historian and journalist of games and playful art. He is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Memory Insufficient, and a consultant at Silverstring Media.

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few months about the challenges that face in-depth critical writing.

On top of deep economic issues, structural problems make it easy to publish critical writing, but hard to be read and understood by one’s peers. I feel very fortunate that Memory Insufficient has as many readers as it does: it’s largely due to the extraordinary community that has formed around games criticism over the past decade. This community constantly pushes at the boundaries of what web publishing can do, be it the unique curation work happening at Critical Distance or being among the first to fund niche content on Patreon.

Memory Insufficient volumes 1 and 2 were in PDF format precisely to address some of the problems that face web content: the notion was that bringing readers away from the browser would make it easier to eliminate distractions and bring an audience to writing that might otherwise fall through the cracks. There are great advantages to the PDF format, and we’re still going to release PDF collections on a regular basis. However, PDF makes it hard to pull in new readers, hard for our writers to easily show off what they’ve created for us, and hard for curious readers to dive right in without first wrangling with technical issues.

Thoughtful web design

Memory Insufficient Volume 3 launches today as a responsive site designed for long, leisurely reads. It was designed by the fantastic Cole Brown to reproduce the advantages of the PDF ezine, with the added benefits of the state-of-the-art in web design.

Reading at length

When you’re done reading one article, the next one loads automatically underneath. The PDFs were collections, curated to encourage readers to try pieces that they wouldn’t normally be drawn to reading. With infinite scrolling between articles, we can continue to curate collections that are presented to readers as one coherent package.

Encourage in-depth reading. Share fragments, not summaries. Click To Tweet

We’ve made it easy to tweet interesting fragments to share with other people. Sharing is an important part of the reading process in a critical community, but the tendency is to condense complex arguments into something tweet-length that people can rally behind like a banner. This is reductive and obscures enlightening dialogue behind a fog of war. Our hope is that by giving readers the ability to share epigrammatic moments from within the article, sharing can feel more like opening a window into a room that followers are welcomed to explore on their own.

Our site looks great on a tablet. It looks great on a mobile phone. Everything is responsive to viewing at different resolutions, to ensure a comfortable read wherever you enjoy reading for long stretches of time. You should be able to sit back in an easy chair with a pot of tea and take everything in slowly, with minimal distractions.

Theorypunk in practice

Zolani Stewart coined a term earlier this year for the kind of work happening at publications like Arcade Review, ZEAL, Five out of Ten as well as here at Memory Insufficient. Lana Polansky expanded on the idea:

“Theorypunk is an accumulation of intellectual, political, and historical efforts to produce critical work which is both openly democratic and deeply engaged with its subject matter. It posits the simple provocation that thought ought to precede prestige or institutional credential.”

Part of producing openly democratic critical work is ensuring accessibility, not just in terms of the medium of publication, but in terms of how a theoretical foundation is built within articles themselves. As well as honing an editorial policy of limiting unexplained jargon, we have taken care to reproduce the “resources” section from Volumes 1 and 2 of Memory Insufficient: our articles end with information boxes that make it easy for you to learn more about a field when your interest is piqued.

Volume 2 of Memory Insufficient introduced the notion of providing contextual information parallel to the flow of the main article, using sidenotes. Volume 3 does the same thing, with a feature called modals — links that bring up an information box to provide more background or an example of something referenced in the text.

Sidenotes for web

Modals bring in more context or specific examples

On other websites, they’re often used to bring up a larger version of an image in its own lightbox. The principle is similar here, but instead of expanding images, we’re expanding ideas.


Special thanks to Silverstring Media for funding this redesign, to Claris Cyarron for being an extraordinary creative director, to Cole Brown for designing an elegant system and a beautiful interface, and to the community of readers for supporting critical publishing.