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.