Some Words with Andrew Dickinson, Editor-in-Chief of Lock-On — A Gaming Journal

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By Josh Nichols on August 24th, 2021

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Lost in Cult was founded by Jon Doyle to publish [lock-on], which is a gaming journal dedicated to the conversations in and around video games. Articles inspired by human experiences and pulled from the hearts of writers fill the pages of [lock-on], instead of whatever Google is looking for on that particular morning.

Writers and readers alike are tired and getting exhausted with how quickly the conversation is forced to move forward, abandoning those deeper conversations that could absolutely take place on a regular basis with most releases. And that’s part of what [lock-on] is doing!

Each volume is a detailed look at games from today and in the past, but always with enough time to properly discuss a game. This allows writers to properly capture a moment to provide a creative and unique commentary on games without recency bias, hype, or whatever you wanna call it. After the dust settles on a game’s story and characters is when you really start to process what happened.

That’s when writers can really dig into a mechanic or story beat in some of the most spectacular ways. But that’s not as “allowed” because of how much capitalism and big tech have affected journalism. [lock-on] has wedged itself directly against the entire model with dedicated fan support (they could use your help too!) to provide a space for those conversations.

Speculation is a large part of gaming news and conversations now with Google’s accursed SEO algorithms directing many of the online conversations. As a freelance writer that enjoys feeding their cats, I’m almost too curious about Lost in Cult’s focus. Thought-provoking words aren’t necessarily hard to find online but breathing such full breaths outside of Google’s atmosphere is as courageous and beautiful as it is inspiring.

Guides made for constantly changing titles and leaks for upcoming titles drive so much of the online conversation but it wasn’t always like this. And it doesn’t need to be like this.

This is part of what director Jon Doyle and editor-in-chief Andrew Dickinson are fighting so fiercely to change with the passionate text scattered across the detailed pages of [lock-on], which you can feel on the pages. Each page is made from 120 gsm uncoated paper. I have no idea what that means but Jon and Andrew do. All I know is it feels amazing each and every time I touch the pages of [lock-on]. I was a kid that grew up smelling the insides of brand-new video games and screamed with joy when new issues of Game Pro and Game Informer arrived in the mail.

Flipping through the pages of [lock-on] is like looking through an expensive and high-quality reference book, and the digital scans are no different. Lost in Cult offers both options for their supporters on Kickstarter and Steady. We can all pretend it’s for those that prefer digital text but really it’s for the weirdos like me that carefully place the physical text on a shelf and only read the digital edition. The crowdfunding model is part of the reason the published work is so personal, creative, and unique.

A dedicated and growing audience allows Lost in Cult to pay writers to share their stories, instead of relying on whatever Google is looking for on that particular morning. Ad revenue and data collection have increasingly led to quicker conversations on data being searched for by people but that feedback loop comes at a cost. Longer conversations, intimate discussions, and unique perspectives don’t fit as comfortably into today’s model so they’re seen less often. They’re certainly still out there but they’re less common. It’s just not as feasible and harder to draw oxygen in the increasingly smaller chamber of search results.

I want to focus on the art before we get into Andrew’s answers to some questions I had. I intentionally chose to make that an afterthought because of how stupid this world is becoming. Capitalism typically puts art last, or at the very least doesn’t pay as much attention to it. It’s an afterthought. Art is very clearly at the center of everything Lost in Cult and [lock-on] are doing and that’s revitalizing in a ‘Here’s How to Find the Pink Flamingo in Fortnite’ focused world.

Anyway, here’s Andrew’s answers to my questions that came up when we were discussing the KICKSTARTER FOR VOLUME TWO of [lock-on], a very tasty gaming journal.

Note: All of the art in this article is from Lost in Cult’s [lock-on] Volume 1 and the official website.

Retroware: The first episode of Cult Cast has some interesting details that everyone should check out but for anyone who hasn’t heard yet, what is Lost in Cult and [lock on]? What inspired you to bring this level of detail and passion into the publication conversation?

Andrew: I know Jon has been thinking about this for a long time – he set up the Lost In Cult account back in 2017, but just didn’t know how to go about achieving his dream. Then last year he finally decided to take the plunge, and enlisted the help of people like Jason Maddison and eventually myself. Having known Jon a little while now, the level of detail and passion you mention is just how he is! He’s essentially translated his own passion for games and art into a journal that fills a fairly empty niche in our industry.

Retroware: As a freelance writer that grew up reading every video game magazine/article I could, I’m very aware of how much things have changed. I’m 30 years old next month so I grew up flipping through Game Pro and many other magazines that aren’t around anymore. Everyone’s still talking about video games but the conversation just doesn’t slow down long enough to do anything other than review coverage and the occasional feature. [lock on] and Lost in Cult are different though. Gorgeous artwork with walls of intimate text can be found all throughout Lost in Cult. I love that you’re bringing this conversation back into video games. Some websites like Polygon and Kotaku (and Retroware!) are trying to keep that alive but it’s difficult with how fast everything moves now.

Can you talk about how the crowdfunding model changes the kinds of writing you’re able to do and the stories you can tell? It must be so much easier talking when you’re not out of breath from running after the latest SEO trend.

Andrew: Yeah, things move super quickly now, which just wasn’t the case before the internet exploded. Having that space and interest to talk about games in a more detailed way now, free of the worry of reviews and SEO, is really quite refreshing, and I think many people miss that for sure. As you mention, crowdfunding allows us to take these risks and write more in-depth about games and gaming culture without having to find advertisers or cement relationships with big publishers to stay afloat. We’re selling direct to the consumer, and if they like what we stand for and the content we create then they’re willing to pay for it up front. That’s real freedom right there, being able to appeal to your audience without having to appease all those middle men first!

Volume 1 is largely dedicated to long-form discussions around PlayStation

Retroware: Are there any interviews, advertisements, or features that you remember reading on print that are essentially lost now (outside of something like Internet Archive)? It’s so strange, sad, and weird knowing that so many of the industry’s beginnings and earliest days could have been lost to time without print magazine preservation efforts.

Andrew: Print preservation is so important, and luckily places like Out Of Print Archive are taking steps to digitize these pieces of our gaming past. I personally have a good collection of magazines, including an entire set of Official Dreamcast Magazine and DC-UK, which I believe are the best gaming magazines ever made. ODM especially is an example of an officially licensed publication done right – all of those have fallen by the wayside now (Official PlayStation Magazine was the last one to go here in the UK, last year). I rely on these magazines to research my Dreamcast books, and there are so many amazing features within those pages I couldn’t list them all. Anything that Caspar Field was involved in though, is a joy. He was the editor of DC-UK for its first 6 issues, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with him and talking to him on a number of occasions. He captured that late 90’s lifestyle journalism trend so well in DC-UK, and I would hate for that to be lost.

Retroware: I loved hearing the ‘smaller details’ like “Final Fantasy’s economy” brought up on Cult Cast when you were discussing what games media typically doesn’t have time to discuss. The Pink Flamingo in Fortnite. Brilliant and very real problem that I very much relate to as a freelancer that desperately wants to write from my heart and not just where to find the thing in the game that won’t be there next week. It hurts the artist part of my heart. 

Are there any specific stories, mechanics, or parts of games you’re looking forward to writing about?

Andrew: Well I have hinted earlier on about writing about Parasite Eve II, but I am not doing so in the way you would think. I’m also really interested in talking about the effects of games on people’s actual lives, like how social games connect people or how a particular game can come just at the right time to almost be an analogy of what that person is going through in life at that particular moment. Jason’s ‘I Have Lived’ article in Volume 001 speaks to that, and I’ll always champion those personal stories. I’d especially love to look at how gaming has impacts the lives of marginalized people, and how they help people to see that regardless of race, colour, creed, disability, sex, sexuality or gender identity… we’re all human and gaming gives us shared experiences like no other medium can.

Retroware: Are there any obsolete games you miss?

Andrew: Until recently I’d have said Scott Pilgrim! Although I always had my digital copy installed, but now I have the special edition of the physical version on the way, which is a dream. I do miss some of the early 00’s MMO games though, stuff like PlanetSide and, weirdly, The Matrix Online. I have incredible memories of playing those games but now they’ve just disappeared.
I’ll always kick myself for not getting a PS4 before they delisted P.T. too. I have never gotten to experience that for myself, and as a HUGE Silent Hill fan, it’s very sad.

Retroware: Outside of games, is there any media that you really like that you’d recommend or just really vibe with?

Andrew: Like I say, I am a huge horror fan, and as you know myself and Bella had a great chat about The Blair Witch Project, and found footage movies in general. It’s a genre I highly recommend, because it can really surprise you, like the V/H/S movies.

I’m also a huge music lover, with an eclectic taste and a love of collecting vinyl. Right now I am obsessed with ‘lately I feel EVERYTHING’ by Willow, and am also super psyched that Aaliyah is coming to streaming platforms (and vinyl, finally!). She played a huge part in my formative years, and her death really affected me as it came at the same time I was ending my first relationship. She’ll always have a place in my heart. Now I might have to go and watch Romeo Must Die! Haha.

from Crash Bandicoot to The Last of Us Part II TO DEATH STRANDING

Retroware: Sometimes games are still available but are just out of reach due to their age, even with rose-colored glasses from dozens of playthroughs. Are there any games you love that you just can’t revisit? Heart of Darkness and Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords are two big ones for me. I can still appreciate them but it’s difficult to enjoy them outside of reading, remembering, or through videos.

Andrew: I tried to play the original Silent Hill not too long ago, and I found that very tough to go back to. If I had the time I absolutely would play that through again, but we’ve been very spoiled since, so it can be a chore (although a worthwhile one). The PS1 Final Fantasy games are similar, and worst of all is probably Skies Of Arcadia for Dreamcast. Don’t get me wrong, the constant random battles were a chore at the time too, but I don’t think I’d have the patience for them now, and I ADORE that game! I know the Gamecube port mostly resolved that issue, but unfortunately, that game goes for upwards of £100 these days. If anyone fancies donating me a copy though… Haha.

Retroware: What are your thoughts on No Commentary Playthroughs? I don’t think they should replace games being traditionally available but they’re certainly an interesting addition to preservation and accessibility.

Andrew: Yeah I agree, they are a part of the preservation movement and important as such, but those games should still be available to people. I was watching one of these for Parasite Eve II the other day, to help me get back into the mindset I had while originally playing it for a piece I’m writing, but it is also useful for people who never played that game to understand what it was, and maybe give them enough interest to go out and track it down themselves. That game really is a hidden gem.

Retroware: What’s something you miss about games that was part of a specific time? Something that can’t be experienced or recaptured.

Andrew: I miss the early internet days when being social online was new, and by and large people were NICE! Phantasy Star Online is a great example of this, I had nothing but great experiences with others playing that game back in 2001. Also, stuff like PlayStation Home really captured that vibe, and I still miss that. There are rumblings that they’re bringing that back in some form, maybe for PSVR2, which I would love to see.

conversations about what makes games special

Retroware shares Lost in Cult’s vision on many things, including the preservation of video games and art. I wanted to share the Kickstarter for the team’s upcoming volume, as well as some information on who Jon Doyle and Andrew Dickinson both are as creators, writers, artists, and human beings.

Retroware: Xbox has made big strides in preservation efforts with features and focuses like Xbox Game Pass and backward compatibility, but they’ve still made some questionable decisions, like the Xbox Series X|S ultimately requiring Internet in the long term for functionality. We’ve seen some poor decisions from PlayStation and Nintendo regarding games preservation too. On Cult Cast, you discussed the need for games to change and be like film in regards to art preservation being enforced. Do you think we’ll see this? What do you think the future looks like without preservation being required by law? Even Xbox, the best of three w/ preservation at the moment, was in a much different place a few years ago, and could change again as soon as it makes financial sense.

Andrew: I would love to see this happen, but realistically I don’t think it’ll happen in the way we want it to. We’re going to see ports, remasters and remakes of popular games because they make people easy money, but that’s capitalism rather than preservation! Limited run companies have taken on some of this responsibility, but even this isn’t enough. Archiving complete games digitally needs to happen, as well as keeping physical libraries of them. Online games also need to be preserved, ideally in various builds that show their changes over time. Like you say though, it depends on what makes financial sense, and that is what is holding us back here. Perhaps crowdfunding might help with this issue too?!

Unique and colorful art fills the pages of [lock-on]

Retroware: PlayStation’s history is important to me. It’s where a lot of my nostalgia and memories are. Do you think the company will start to handle its classic catalog better? It’s troubling seeing Nintendo and PlayStation crack down on ROM sites while ignoring the games entirely when it comes to their digital store fronts.

Andrew: I hope they do, but their focus seems to be on moving forward, while repackaging their nostalgia for modern audiences. Lara Jaskson speaks about this in Volume 001, and it’s a really important thing to think about – is repackaging our nostalgia a good thing? Sony seem to think so, and heck, even I get excited about stuff like the Dead Space remake, but yet again it’s for monetary gain rather than coming from a place of preserving the history of the medium. Sony have the tools to so this though, via services like PS Now, so maybe we could see more of their back catalog being released this way? We’ll see…

Retroware: What’s your advice for anyone that wants to get involved with video game preservation?

Andrew: Honestly I would just want to congratulate and thank them! The more people who do this the better, and the more devs and publishers might take note. Ultimately this needs to get bigger, so even if it’s hard work, just keep pushing! Your efforts will be appreciated in the long run.

Retroware: Technology has always impacted games but it’s starting to influence the industry in some bigger and more concerning ways. NFT games, microtransactions, and psychologists assisting in making loot boxes just the right amount of addictive (I think I heard that last night on Cult Cast!) … I’m tired. What do you think is next for games? Do you think things continue the way they have been with “AAAA” games, AA games, and indies? Or do you think other people are tired, overwhelmed, and going to want to see the industry change? I personally would like to see less crunch and more short games. Giant, big budget games are fun but I love those smaller and more intimate stories. I can’t be the only one that’s tired. The reason I’m so interested in hearing your thoughts on the future of video games is you both have such a good grasp on the past and present — and of course, [lock on] isn’t going to focus on the future. I have to ask!

Andrew: I feel like we’re already seeing a split. There’s a section of the community that are perfectly happy with things like microtransactions and loot boxes, and if that’s the case there will always be games that contain them. We are seeing more and more people who detest those things though, along with stuff like 200gb game downloads and mandatory patches etc. Those people are spurring on devs who want to tell stories, or see a return to the way things used to be. So I see this being the point where those two sections of the video game market split, and we see both being catered to. I don’t think we’ll see any end to things like NFT and loot boxes unless they’re legislated against, which is happening in some countries. We shall see I suppose!

The Kickstarter for the team’s second volume can be found HERE. You can also sign up to support Lost in Cult and [lock-on] through their Steady, which provides monthly support. It’s similar to Patreon and can be paid annually with a discount. You can also pay it monthly and cancel anytime. This comes with some other benefits as well and the ongoing support helps Lost in Cult continue to grow in the future.

Retroware: Are there any games, in particular, you’re wanting to see covered in future volumes of [lock on]?

Andrew: I am a huge horror fan, and Jon is particularly adept at finding amazing horror artists, so I would love to see more Silent Hill and also Dead Space. Of course I’m also all about the Dreamcast, so that’s something I am very excited to see in the pages of [lock-on]!

Look, you’re a reader of Retroware, which means you love video games, the people that make them, and the conversations in the middle. Lost in Cult and [lock-on] are doing cool stuff with games and we dig that. Check them out and add them to your list of online and offline reading material. I’ll be reading and supporting [lock-on] for years to come and hope you will too. And yes, the pages of [lock-on] smell amazing. It’s one of the first things I checked.

Retroware: What does the future of Lost in Cult and [lock on] look like? Do you have any upcoming plans for upcoming volumes you’d like to talk about?

Andrew: Well, Volume 003 will be a Dreamcast special, which is an open secret as we advertised for pitches about the console! We have an amazing line-up for that volume already, and I’ve also spilled the beans that we’re looking at a section in Volume 004 dedicated to the voices of women, people from the LGBTQIA+ community, people of colour, and those with disabilities. We’re inclusive anyway, and accept pitches from anyone at any time, but I felt it important to have a section that really highlights the experiences of all these people who are so often ignored or written off by the community at large. There are so many stories we just wouldn’t ordinarily get a chance to hear, and [lock-on] is the perfect place I feel, in this world of SEO and clickbait!

Josh really likes video games. Horror is their favorite but they also like other stuff.

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