So, I've been catching up on my podcasts lately, and given my obsessive need to listen to every cast from the very beginning it's proven to be a particularly daunting task, especially since my new job doesn't require the three hour commute that I used to have.
Much to my wife's chagrin I've taken to the habit of listening everywhere. I walk around in stores with my earbuds in, listen at work when I don't have anything going on, and wander around the house listening while I clean and take care of the kids. It'd be embarrassing if I had any shame.
It's not really something I'm doing for the ENnies, it's just a personal thing, I lost my iPod in a car wreck a year and a half ago, so I got pretty far behind, but now that I've expanded my phone's memory to 4gigs it occurred to me that I have plenty of room for a few 'casts on that. I only mention it here because it's gotten me thinking about how podcasts and the ENnies relate.
Last time I was a judge I suggested that a category be created for podcasts. RPG casts were still reasonably new and few in number at the time, and as a fan I thought they'd prove to be an invaluable resource to the gaming industry. Most everyone agreed, and a new category was created, but at the time I don't think anyone really knew what position these 'casts should fill in the awards. Based on the types of podcasts available at the time, and our guess at the primary role they would fill in the hobby they were placed as a separate category under fansites.
That year 23 podcasts were entered, and there were no real guidelines in place as to what should be entered, so we listened to every episode of 23 different shows. Given how many of those were bi-weekly or even weekly it ended up being a bit much, even for someone who listens to as many shows as I do on my own time. Therefore I really approve of the idea that the judges came up with last year requiring various podcasts to choose a number of episodes to enter (I think it was six, but I wasn't a judge last year so I can't be sure).
What does this have to do with anything? I don't know really, just something I've been thinking about. Specifically, how podcasts fit into the ENnies. Personally I think that they add to the hobby a lot like conventions do. They form a sort of virtual community where gamers hang out and talk to each other, sharing tips and bad game stories with people they might not have otherwise met. This is particularly true with shows that have a strong online forum presence, but I don't think it's exclusive to that. I think anyone who really listens to, and interacts with, the hosts of these shows thinks of them as friends in much the same way you might think of forum buddies as friends. You might never meet them in person, but if you do there is an instant connection.
In essence podcasts create a shared experience in a way that the industry has drifted away from since the days when everyone had played through Tomb of Horrors or Against the Giants. Gaming grew so broad that our experiences have mostly become individual. Podcasts, among their followings at least, bring us back together, give us stories to share that have a similar foundation, and create a real sense of community.
Regardless of what else they give us, what advice they give, and what tools they provide, that alone makes them cool, it makes them an important step forward for the hobby.
That does however make me second guess their place in the awards. It's not that I don't think they deserve a category of their own, in fact I very much believe they do, I just think it needs to be moved out from under it's parent. Originally it was placed there because we worried that there might not be enough entries, and given last year's field I guess I could see why it was a concern, but I think that the field could clearly be broadened by going out and soliciting entries the way I had to do that first year.
If they had to be under any other category I think they fit best under Regalia, a category specifically provided for products that aren't part of the hobby directly, but help us to enjoy it.
I firmly believe that most podcasts exist to be part of the community. Whatever their topics, I don't really think the podcasters themselves do it to impart wisdom or give reviews, they do it to contribute to the greater hobby as a whole. The problem is, I don't know that anyone knows how to judge that.
When I first found out that I was a judge again the first place I reached out to was the podcasting community. More than anything I want to know how they would judge themselves. Sound quality, topics, humor, consistency? What makes a great podcast?
In the early days of my listening I was firmly convinced that the advice was where it was at. I really owe a debt to shows like Paul Tevis' Have Games, Will Travel for introducing me to some new games that have become favorites, or the Sons of Kryos who actively changed the way I play the game, and I still believe this is an incredible resource, especially for shows that focus on such things. I have realized as of late however that it's far from the only thing that makes a show great.
More and more I find myself drifting toward shows where the sense of community is the driving force. Old favorites like All Games Considered, Dragon's Landing Inn, and Fear the Boot really opened me up to the idea, but some of the shows I've discovered more recently, like the Podgecast and Brilliant Gameologists really drive this home for me.
I know there are a lot of great shows out there that really deserve mentioning, that there are dozens things that are just as important that could be used as good criteria to judge podcasts, but I wanted to dwell on this for a moment because this aspect is less tangible, and because it's been on my mind a lot lately.
Producing a podcast is hard work, creating consistently entertaining and informative content week after week has got to be difficult, and I'd hate to come across as saying that it's only the intangible that counts, but it's taken me a long time to figure out how important this aspect is to me, and I thought I should put it out there.