This month's profiled writer belongs to a very exclusive club — writers who have over 1000 articles to their credit here at BC. Matt Paprocki has been on board since November, 2003, and as of this writing has 1059 articles under his belt, the majority of them in the Gaming and Film sections.
Possessed of a video game collection that would put most anyone else's to shame, Matt contributes reviews, news, and opinion to the Gaming section on a regular basis and is a contributor to the Xbox Live Arcade feature. BC Gaming editor Ken Edwards says, "When Matt is not playing video games he is watching movies, and when he is not watching movies he is playing video games (when does he have time to write?). Matt has vast knowledge in both fields, and is a great asset to BC Magazine."
As film editor, I can only concur — Matt's regular contributions are a mainstay of the film section. Matt can be counted on for weekly DVD reviews that go the extra mile by discussing the technical aspects of the releases. He rates films not only on their story content, but on their technical quality and the appeal of the bonus material as well. Matt's detailed descriptions of the audio and video presentation of the films he reviews will satisfy the needs of anyone who wants to know whether their viewing experience will take advantage of all that their home theater set-up has to offer. Matt is also now reviewing HD DVD releases as well, keeping up with current trends in format. If a film's technical specs aren't up to snuff, you'll learn about it in one of Matt's reviews.
If you want to know how Matt's passion for all things video developed, read on:
I can remember first picking up a game controller when I was five. That’s pretty much going to be the pattern here. Born, raised, and still sitting here in Toledo, Ohio, a whole lot of my 26 years have been spent in front of the TV with some form of controller in my hand. Out of a private Catholic school (yuck) and into a public high school, I had full plans to find a career in computer graphics. I took each and every art class available. I had what could only be considered one of the best art teachers I could have asked for.
Hitting college, I realized rather quickly that computer graphics require this thing called “math.” That’s not my thing. Ever. I was lucky to graduate high school my math is so off. I briefly majored in drawing, but there’s no decent career that I would enjoy in that beyond teaching, and I’m not a kid person.
I decided there had to be another way into the game industry (or at least get close to it), and that was journalism. I majored about a year and half in Bowling Green University’s program before I completely lost interest. I didn’t quite see the logic in learning (and paying for the privilege) about ancient eastern civilizations when all I wanted to do was write. Taught myself most of what I know. It’s more fun that way.
I started up my own cheap and horribly put together fanzine called Gaming Source around that time, and when the cost far outweighed the benefits, I was lucky enough to find the website, Digital Press, through a Christmas gift (their price guide for video games) and settled in there. This also spurred a huge video game collecting bug that has been referred to as a variety of things from sick, sad, cool, insane, or the greatest thing ever. I was promoted by default to reviews editor since, well, a rather large portion of the content was mine anyway.
I’ve worked retail jobs in various capacities for a little over ten years, and recently found some actual paying work as a freelance journalist for local papers and a few other media companies. I keep the retail jobs because, well, I’m a freelance journalist. That leads us to today, where I spend free time playing games, writing about them simply because I enjoy it, watching loads of movies, and taking care of countless pets including two lizards, three ferrets, some fish, a mouse, and two dogs. That’s down a bit from a typically larger roster which in the past has included an alligator, snakes, and frogs, amongst others.
Q&A: The Serious Stuff
You're in that very exclusive club of writers who've written over 1000 articles here at BC. Where do you find the time to watch the movies, play the video games, and write the reviews, and how does this all fit in with what you do in your "real" life?
Wait… we’re allowed to have “lives?” The sad part is, I don’t have the time. My shelves are full of movies I’ve bought and never watched (some not even opened). Games are everywhere that I never even put into the system. I’m also the reviews editor for Digital Press, which takes even more of my time. I’ve found myself not reviewing things I planned to when time doesn’t permit. I need to balance the running time of the movie, the amount of extras, and how long it will take me to write it up. An average movie review takes me around 45 minutes. A game review is generally shorter and takes about 20. That’s always in the back of my mind before I sit down to watch/play something. Rushing leads to sloppy reviews, or disinterest, which is even worse. If you look through my reviews, you can definitely tell when I was bored out of my mind writing about something (a review for Lake Placid 2 being the latest victim of this issue). I simply enjoy doing it for the most part though. I’m a freelance writer and work retail, so even work revolves around games and movies generally. It’s just a hobby in the end I guess. I love home media, and writing about it seems like a natural extension of that.
In your DVD reviews, you go into the technical (i.e. audio/visual) aspects of the discs in great detail. How did you come by your technical background? Does paying attention to that stuff ever distract you from the fact that you're watching a story unfold, or do you watch twice? What's your home set-up like?
On the technical side, I’ve taught myself everything. It’s not necessarily difficult to pick out flaws in the video if you’re looking for them. There’s not a lot of training needed when you’re watching something and scratches are all over the place. That’s simply a lazy/cheap effort by the studio who didn’t want to spend the money to restore said movie. Stuff like compression is easily found once you’ve spent the few minutes it takes to learn what to look for.
On the audio side, it’s even easier. Does the sound follow the action on screen? Are actions happening on the left come from the left speaker? True die-hards will dive deeper and get into compression rates and such. I don’t have the money to spend on some massive home theater to pick up on things like that, and the space allowed really wouldn’t make a difference anyway even if I could. It’s not a special talent or anything to critique things like this. Most people either won’t care or don’t see a need to learn, and there’s nothing wrong with that. For nit pickers like myself, the information is there.
I generally try to pick out video and audio flaws early so I can get into the film during critical parts. Sadly, not all of the problems will occur early on, so it’s always in the back of my mind to watch for technical problems. The worst cases are foreign movies in their original language with subtitles. I always take notes as I’m watching to make sure I don’t forget to include things in the review, and fumbling around a dimly lit room with pen and pad while trying to read is not easy. Generally, the rewind button is my friend in those cases, but to watch the movie over again, well, there’s no time for that.
It’s actually more difficult when a DVD is really well made. You need to really dig deep to make sure there’s nothing wrong and that nothing is being overlooked.
My set-up is on the low end compared to most home theater enthusiasts. However, there’s a thing called overkill and a lot of people end up there. Is a $20,000 audio receiver better than a $500 one? Of course. Would most people know the difference, at least one significant enough to alter their viewing experience? Not a chance. I’m not even sure the people who do spend that much know the difference.
I have a 37" 1080p LCD by Westinghouse which is a perfect fit for the room. My receiver is a Panasonic 6.1 system, complete with middle of the road JBL speakers. That will need to be upgraded relatively soon as the new HD formats are bringing in new audio types and my receiver doesn’t support them. That’s still a way off until prices come down though.
You've been very vocal about censorship in video games, calling for parents to do more parenting in that regard instead of relying on the game manufacturers to protect their kids. Do you have any practical suggestions for parents who want to monitor the games their kids play? Are the ratings really useful (I ask that in particular because when I was raising my son I never felt the MPAA ratings were useful at all for picking appropriate movies)? Are there any other resources, short of actually buying and playing the game, that parents can use to help them make good judgments?
It’s not so much a censorship issue as it is that this has been going on for 15 years now. I was 12 when this started. Since then, I’ve graduated from high school, spent some time in college, and we’re still at the same dead standstill. Some vocal critics still use games that came out in 1992 to strengthen their arguments, which only makes them look foolish. The same arguments have been pushed all this time, and even when disproved or being flat out wrong in the first place, people still use them against the industry. This ridiculous debate hasn’t evolved in the least.
Parents should have no issue monitoring their kids. The ESRB has the rating on the front and the back, and every game has descriptors. Is it that hard to read a bold letter on a box? Contrary to popular belief, they’re very accurate and careful about ratings assignments.
That’s not to say they’re perfect, but certainly better at policing themselves than the MPAA. Neither the ESRB nor MPAA are backed by any federal law, as this would be against first amendment rights. When you read something in the paper about the game industry fighting against video game bills that would prevent kids from purchasing M-rated games, keep in mind the MPAA has nothing in place to keep kids from buying R-rated videos, and they never have. It’s voluntary based on the retailer. The ESRB isn’t some evil corporation hell-bent on selling your child violence or porn as certain people (*cough Jack Thompson cough*) would lead you to believe.
Look at the MPAA and how it’s run. A movie is released in theaters with a PG-13. A parent thinks it’s okay, and their kid loves the movie. Well, when it comes to DVD, it’s a super violent director’s cut without a rating anywhere to be found. Said parent buys it because they found it appropriate in theaters. If the ESRB let something similar happen (say, a game is re-released in a violent edition without a rating), I can’t imagine the backlash the industry would receive.
The game industry isn’t completely for kids anymore. That’s something missed by all violent game critics. Parents can check out the ESRB website before buying a game for their kid, or, as shocking as it may be, be with them when they’re choosing a game to buy. What is your child doing out alone with $50 in the first place if you’re not there? Getting some of the basics of game playing isn’t hard either and enjoying the medium with your child is a must regardless of the situation. Peeking into their room once in a while to see what’s on screen isn’t a bad idea either at a bare minimum, but personal responsibility seems to be a premium these days.
Where do you see your writing career taking you a few years down the road? Any plans you'd like to share with us?
I want to write. That’s the basic response. The long winded response is that I’d love to be able to push gaming journalism in a different direction. As it stands, it’s unprofessional, riddled with cheap jokes, and leading to many believing this is an industry for kids, as I mentioned above. It’s filled with hype that tends to overtake the important things.
To put this into perspective, many gaming magazines don’t have a single article on the current legislation being brought against the industry, yet they find room for a full-page, single screen shot of an upcoming game with potential promise. The website GamePolitics manages to find multiple stories per day. Why can’t the magazines find one per month?
That’s not to say there’s no place for fun (it is an entertainment medium after all), but if you flip through older game magazines and current ones, the standards haven’t evolved at all with the audience growing up from the days of the NES. Where did this go wrong? Only two magazines (not including those outside the US such as Edge) have ever tried a full journalistic approach: Electronic Games and Next Generation. They’re no longer around. The gaming audience isn’t used to a true source, and have been pushed into reading hyperbole that leads to junk like the “console wars.”
Do I make cheap jokes here on Blogcritics? Sure, the subhead is a potential goldmine. However, the reviews should be clean and to the point. If there’s some history to the game or if it’s a sequel, that’s relevant information that many professional writers seem scared to tackle. I don’t understand the reasoning behind this, possibly because many may not even know the history or don’t care to do the research. I can’t think of any reasons beyond that. The audience needs to be educated on things like this, and the journalists have the ability to do just that. It’s a fast moving medium, and many fans have only recently jumped on board. Why not let them know there’s more out there than the latest thing? That’s what I want to do.
Thanks for the opportunity to speak my mind and keep it as long winded as I did!
Q&A: The Fun Stuff
What book/CD/DVD do you have more than one copy of, in case something happens to the original one?
I don’t necessarily own more than one copy of anything because I’m worried about damage (though with three ferrets, I probably should be), but because I’m a sucker for fancy boxes and special features. I think I own Terminator 2 five times on various formats because they each offer something unique. That’s just the beginning of the multiple discs I own, and I won’t even get into the games.
If you had to pick one sense to do without, which of your five senses would it be?
Smell seems kinda/sorta useless in many situations. It would drop my taste too, but I know how bacon tastes. That’s all that matters.
What do you wish they'd do a series about on TV?
A serious, in-depth, and professionally produced video game show. No cheap comedy, no dumbing down to attract other viewers, etc. There’s a reason the industry is under attack from politicians and other figures. TV still presents the hobby like it’s aimed at three-year-olds.
If you could, would you swap sexes for a week?
The number of “joystick” jokes available here is far too easy. I’ll go with no.
What do you think you'd learn if you could swap to the opposite sex?
That they don’t have joysticks… err, yeah. That was unavoidable.
What sports team will you love until the day you die?
Chicago Bulls (NBA), Chicago Bears (NFL), Chicago Blackhawks (NHL), Seattle Mariners (MLB). The latter one sticks out, but keep in mind Nintendo owns them. That should explain a lot.
What's one sign that you're a total nerd?
I only get one? Let’s go with this one.
What's the first book you recall reading?
How to Win at Nintendo Games #2 by Jeff Rovin. I remember a Monster in My Closet book and The Little Engine that Could, but those were read TO me, not necessarily read by me.
What magazines do you subscribe to?
EGM, Game Pro, Nintendo Power, PSM, Games for Windows, Game Informer, Official Xbox Magazine, Tips and Tricks, Hardcore Gamer, TV Guide, G-Fan, and likely more I can’t think of.
Who is your favorite writer?
Michael Crichton, a man whose name I have never spelled right without looking at one of his books on my shelf. What the hell are the “ch” in there for?
Who is your least favorite writer?
That guy who tried to argue with me on that parenting book and anti-game loony… err, lawyer, Jack Thompson, who amazingly got a publishing deal on a book that failed miserably. I’m happy to see it ranked down at 602,000 in Amazon’s book sales rankings.
Do you have a favorite Blogcritic?
Chris Beaumont. Our tastes are eerily similar and we tend to agree on everything. Anyone with a higher post count deserves credit, too. If you have less of a life than me, congratulations. That’s some dedication. There’s that gaming editor guy, too. Ken something or other.
What do you think is the best part of Blogcritics?
The number and variety of people I know are reading what I write. Before joining, I had no idea how many (actually, if any) eyes were looking.
Side note: If we ever do a cheap TV commercial, I could hear some terrible actor reading that line off like they do in those “I made $50,000 in one week!” ads.
What song is stuck in your head right now?
"State Your Peace", Hootie and the Blowfish. It’s always Hootie.
What do you have set as the home page in your browser?
Digital Press. Has been for probably close to eight years.
Who was your idol as you were growing up?
Tougher question than you would think. The easy out is Michael Jordan like it would be for just about any early ‘90s kid. I’ll go with that.
What are three items you would need to have on a desert island?
Electricity, an Xbox 360, and some of that food stuff. Of course, without games, the 360 is kind of useless. Drop the food, add in a game. I’ll make do.
What's the best place to get a meal in your neck of the woods?
Spaghetti Warehouse. No one else I know likes it, so everyone gets dragged there once a year on my birthday. Double bonus is that I don’t have to pay for it then, either.
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
Another one of those questions that’s tough because I only get one. Probably ignorance. That covers a lot, from people who complain about things without knowing the full story, racists, agenda pushers who refuse to acknowledge the other side of a debate, those who believe animals have no feelings, etc. If I keep going, we’ll be here for a while. Human stupidity comes in at a very close second, if not a deadlocked tie.
Matt Picks Matt
We asked Matt to choose his favorites from among his huge collection of BC articles, and these were the ones he selected. Check them out, and be sure to visit Matt's writer's page to see what else he's been up to.
Oh, come one. Everyone knows the bad ones are far more entertaining! But, I siphoned through my posts and found these:
Phone Booth DVD Review
Not really special, but simply picked because it’s my first Blogcritics post, first movie review, and first DVD review all in one package.
Beyond the fact that the book is one of the most miserable things I’ve ever read, this post is special because of the comments to follow by the author himself. He finally gives up when he fails to come up with enough information to repel my arguments, debunking everything by saying the debate was childish even though he wrote a book on the topic.
This is one of my all time favorite movies, both because it was the first Godzilla movie I ever saw in a theater and one of the best in the franchise. I picked it because of my love for the movie and it’s the second longest review I’ve ever written (the first being a 2,300+ word monstrosity to this movie's sequel, Godzilla vs. Biollante).
Xbox 360 Review: Madden NFL 07
Another mundane entry in this football franchise and the review is roughly on the same level. The lukewarm score and review however actually led to a death threat from a reader when he contacted me on Xbox Live. Fun times.