A Chat with Jamin Brophy-Warren, Former WSJ Reporter and Kill Screen Magazine Founder

Jamin Brophy-Warren

In a climate when print properties are scaling back or shutting shop altogether, it takes a great deal of courage to start a new magazine from scratch.

After being one of the youngest hires in the history of the Wall Street Journal and covering a variety of web and entertainment topics including videogames, Jamin Brophy-Warren left the WSJ to take on a new challenge with the launch of Kill Screen Magazine, an in-depth print product fixated on a single question: “What does it mean to play games?”

We recently had the chance to catch-up with Jamin about his new venture.

TP: We’ve known you from your time with the WSJ and various other places, but tell us a little bit about your new venture, Kill Screen?

JBW: Last year, I had dinner at the Game Developers Conference with Chris Dahlen and some other videogame writers and we all complained that something like Kill Screen (then a nameless, amorphous blob) didn’t exist. Really, we just wanted a longer format place to pursue good writing and good journalism, so we talked about doing something over the next few months, gathered the writers, convinced Tony Smyrski (our design guy) to jump on board, and put together a working draft. But I couldn’t run something like this as a reporter for the Journal and I had been commuting back and forth from New Haven where my wife is a grad student. The travel was killing me, so it seemed like a good time to launch something new personally and creatively.

TP: What are your goals with Kill Screen? How will it differ from current outlets? What types of things will you cover?

JBW: Well, we want to approach videogames with the same gravity as Harpers or McSweeney’s or the New Yorker. The big difference will be the quality of writing and the design. It doesn’t look like a videogame magazine. We’re staying away from screenshots and focusing on illustration and photography. While I recognize the hard work that the enthusiast press does, I’d rather be HBO Documentaries than CNN. Our stories will, hopefully, timeless so that you can pick them up years from now and the narratives will still feel fresh. The bigger hope is to advance the common level of discourse around games. We have a vernacular about other forms of media, but the one for games is still in utero.

I think you do that by focusing either on the people who play games or the people who make them. For the former, we’re answering this question of ‘what do games mean’? We have all these intensely personal experiences with videogames and also with each other, so taking a look at people playing games in community and how these titles change how people think, act, eat, sleep etc. yields better stories. For creators, we want to flesh out their creative process more. Because the focus has been on videogames and not the people who make them, I find we know very little about how the personal lives of gamemakers affects their craft and that bothers me.

TP: Do you draw a distinction between game journalist and game reviewer?

JBW:Well, yes and no. I do in the sense that being a journalist and a critic are two different skill sets. One requires tact and guile and the other requires wit and occasionally rancor. But I think you’re seeing a blending of the two particularly online. Magazine writers have been melding those two together for decades, so I don’t think there’s a much a divide between the two as traditionally existed.

TP: We often see new gaming outlets that are web-only, what inspired you to produce an actual print magazine?

JBW: Counter-programming, I guess. I just picked up McSweeney’s Panorama which is really an amazing product. I can’t imagine producing that thing on a regular basis and that’s certainly the point. The direction for print is to decrease frequency and increase quality. What we’re selling is an experience with a print product because that’s the only thing that is unique to print any more. The feel of the pages, the crack of the binding, the look of the thing on your bookshelf — those still have value. The words themselves, while meaningful, don’t have value anymore in the economy of the web. So we’re selling this on the novelty of print. The Kindle and iPad are excellent devices to read things on, but as long as there are coffee tables, we’ll still need ornaments to adorn them with.

TP: Will content be available on the web?

JBW: We’re still working on that. The long-term goal is do a daily email with just one good thing a day and we’ll be teasing some of our content online here and there. I think that content fits better in some places than others. Long-form works best in print or an e-reader, browser based reading works best with short things. But the editorial tone will be consistent regardless of where and how you read Kill Screen content.

TP: Will there be a focus on indie developers?

JBW: Not exclusively. We love indies and we’ll continue to support them where they do good work. Much like film, music, literature, etc., indie implies more of an aesthetic than anything else. Heavy Rain feels like an indie to me in terms of what Quantic Dream was trying to accomplish emotionally. The budget might put them in a different category than, say, Jason Rohrer, but the intentions are exactly the same. I actually don’t find the term all that useful. Twisted Pixel is an indie, but they’re shooting for the polish of a AAA title. I think looking at budgets is a better way to group games.

TP: Besides yourself, who else will be contributing to Kill Screen?

JBW: We have a bumper crop of writers for the first issue. Tom Bissell (New Yorker, GQ, Guardian), Leigh Alexander (Gamasutra, Kotaku), Matt Shaer (Christian Science Monitor, Slate), Rob Dubbin (The Colbert Report) and so on and so on. It’s an awesome group. We haven’t announced the next crop of writers for the next issue, but they’re just as fabulous.

TP: Thanks for your time!

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