Video Game Magazine Covers
December, 2003


A couple of weeks ago, I went to the local Borders and grabbed a bunch of magazines from the rack. I picked things that struck me - either because they were beautiful, or eye-catching. Then I took these magazines and photographed them in the "games" section, to see how they would look.

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The first magazine: Print. Simple colors, artistic layout, lots of "white space" in the design. An extreme case of minimalism, to be sure - but it made me wonder. Instead of emphasizing selection, craft, and quality of information, most popular gaming magazines advertise quantity. Why?

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Next, sex. I chose both the standard sexy girl cover (Harpers) and a less-common sexy boy cover (Blue). Both exude physicality, nakedness, skin. One could argue that they both suggest oral sex. And yet - somehow, they are more appealing (at least, to me) than the girls/polygons who typically grace game mag covers. What do our covers say about the psycho-sexual profile of gamers? And is this really true?

*And how about that gaze-forbidding plastic?

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I also considered the role of celebrity as a sales tool. Real or modeled, why not make the most of game characters - give them some dignity, some grace, some presence? The cover of Deuce tennis magazine does not bellow about stats, gear or gossip. It is an exercise in understatement, designed to appeal to the class-conscious tennis buff. How do game magazines aspire to appeal to in their readership? How does this constrain that audience, alienate potential buyers and limit the impact of in-magazine advertising?

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Lastly, I took a look at "the future". Many games are focused on the idea of magic, fantasy and future times - science in advanced societies, mystical events and outer space. Game art is full of glowing auras, technological vistas and neon-on-black palettes - styles that some would argue have been done to death. Yet in the hands ID or Popular Science, they feel hip, kitschy, and fun - even educated and avant-garde. How does our vision of the future mesh with popular culture and the average person's understanding of what it means to be living in the 21st century. Are we looking forwards - or backwards?

Obviously there are a lot of things to consider. Who buys magazines now, why they buy them, and how often. This shapes the force of future efforts, and so the story goes. But it seems to me that there's quite a bit of room for new memes out there on the rack.

Sick of waiting? See: Jane et al, Andrew et al, Matteo, Raina, and Gonzalo.