When is a videogame magazine more than just a videogame magazine? That’s what you get with “Amusement,” a French “lifestyle” magazine that has been mixing game coverage with a stylish mix of art, fashion, and digital culture. PingMag talks to its founder and editor-in-chief Abdel Bounane to find out more about this groundbreaking magazine.
Written by Jean Snow
What were you doing before you launched “Amusement”?
“Amusement” #3, out now.
I’ve always worked in the videogame/digital entertainment industry. When I was 17 (in 2000), I co-founded a videogame website in France that became huge. We were bought by a branch of LVMH, then the internet bubble came and the site exploded with it. I then wrote about videogames for different lifestyle magazines (“Blast,” “Max,” “Technikart,” “Nuke”). My articles tended to have a cultural view point on videogames. In 2004, I worked as a consultant for PlayStation, where I launched, among other things, ARTCADE PlayStation, a gallery where creative people — photographers, illustrators, etc. — could create works inspired by the PlayStation. I’m also an anchor for France Culture (national public radio), where I speak about digital culture once a week.
What is “Amusement”?
“Amusement” is the first lifestyle magazine on interactive entertainment. “Lifestyle” magazine doesn’t mean a lot in itself, but it’s a word we’ve chosen to characterize a type of magazine. First we work with photographers and illustrators, creative people who usually work for magazines with a strong emphasis on images — fashion, photo, or design magazines — which has never been done before for a technology magazine. Then we’ve also chosen to take special angles on topics, different from the usual videogame magazine, like interviewing the assistant of Ralph Baer, who invented the first videogame console for example. And last but not least, we really want to work with high-level contributors, like world renowned academics (Hans Ulrich Obrist), journalists (Clive Thompson of “The New York Times”), or designers (Tetsuya Mizuguchi of Q Entertainment, ex-Sega). In a nutshell, “Amusement” tries to gather people from very different horizons, in order to reveal the extreme variety found in videogames and digital entertainment.
How did you get the idea to launch the magazine?
When I was a child and a teenager I was a pure nerd. Later — and I don’t know why, maybe simple curiosity — I began to read magazines from a very different world: “I-D,” “The Face),” “Sleaze Nation,” “Dazed and Confused,” and more. I also went to hip clubs — from the Pulp to Le Baron — developed an interest in contemporary art, etc. It led me to think there was a huge gap between the inventiveness of my primary passion — videogames — and the way it was treated in the press. It was especially bad in France, where there is practically only one company selling videogame magazines, and they’re all not very different from each other.
What were the challenges in launching a magazine like “Amusement”?
Gathering people around a very new project is always difficult, but the most difficult was to convince advertisers about the potential for such a project. Simply put, they couldn’t understand who the target audience was. But thankfully, they finally understood that there was a whole generation of people who always lived with videogames and interactive entertainment, and who wanted a higher level magazine covering their passion.
How do you think it compares to other gaming magazine out there? Do you even consider it a gaming magazine?
I do not consider it as a gaming magazine because we really want to explore the interactive entertainment spectrum, from videogames to digital art, nerd series, gadgets, etc. Videogames represent the vast majority of articles, but we want to use them in the exact same way magazines for women use fashion: as an angle to explore a wider lifestyle and an incentive for advertisers.
What is the audience? Mostly gamers, or people outside of gaming who have the potential to be drawn in?
I think that anyone who likes videogames and “geek topics,” and is interested in seeing them covered in a different way — outside of the usual formula — can enjoy “Amusement.”
Do you think it’s important to try and bring gaming culture to a different kind of audience?
I think we shouldn’t, indeed, treat videogames with a “closed” approach (too technical, using too many words a mainstream audience can’t understand). In “Amusement,” half of the press we had came from women journalists who enjoyed the magazine because they where — in their own words — “not ashamed, and drawn in much more easily than with the usual videogame magazine.” It’s part of our aim.
It certainly doesn’t look like most gaming magazines — one of the first signs is that you include fashion spreads. How did you decide on the art direction for the magazine?
The artistic direction is lead by Alice Litscher — she’s been working with the very famous graphic agency M/M Paris for a few years now — and is inspired by high-end fashion magazines. Indeed, for “Amusement” #2 and #3 we had fashion spreads, but in the future we’re going to feature photography that is closer to the digital realm, without forgetting style. We want to produce beautiful pictures, and style is very important in making that happen.
Do you think it’s important to present a non-gaming aesthetic — more art-oriented — to reach out?
I think it’s a mix. We could have created a logo inspired by pixel art for example, but what’s the point? We’re not a magazine solely on videogames, and even less on retrogaming. We could also have used a “futurist” typography, but we’re not speaking about the future; we talk about the present, since the future is happening now! So we want to use an artistic direction that is not linked to a specific theme, because we want to cover a wide spectrum of topics. It’s the same for the name “Amusement”; the name is very general because, in the end, we want to explore “amusement” in the 21th century — it simply happens to be in interactive form now.
What do you think about mixing art and gaming? Do you think it should happen more?
It already happens a lot, and I’m constantly astonished by what is being produced. What we’re seeing now is an entire generation of artists who remix, hack, and question the world of videogames and interactivity. Still, it hasn’t really entered the contemporary art market. But I was talking about this with my friend Miltos Manetas — a renowned digital artist — and we feel it’s better because people have more freedom, can experiment, and don’t have to adapt — even unconsciously — to art buyers and dealers.
The world over, it seems that the publishing industry is experiencing some tough times. How is “Amusement” doing?
We’re doing well for two reasons: we sell almost 50% of what we distribute — a very big score in media — and advertisers now seem to understand the concept of the magazine. We also have a very specific way of working with them, as we create specific ads for the magazine. In this sense we’re more of a creative agency who develops concepts for them, which they like.
What makes a great “Amusement” article?
Something that’s never been seen, with a very specific angle and involving a huge personality, with questions never asked before on an emerging trend. All this criteria can’t happen in one article, but let’s say it’s a fiction that I’d really like to see become reality!
When you reach out for contributions to the magazine, do you find out later that a lot of them actually play games, or do you try to approach people you know are into games?
It works in steps. We first want to work with people whose work we like. Then, when we meet, if they know videogames, then it’s cool because we can think about concepts together. If they don’t, the main idea will come from us and we’ll speak more about the artistry and aesthetics we want to produce.
Are there things you haven’t been able to do yet for the magazine but would like to (like a certain kind of article)?
Yes. We want to speak more about digital art, interactive design, gizmos, and nerd culture. It will happen in upcoming issues.
What’s in the new issue, #3?
Editor-in-chief Abdel Bounane.
I really like the interviews we did in this issue: Kaz Hirai, CEO of Sony Computer Worldwide; Peter Molyneux; a long meeting with Michael Moorcock, one of the most important science fiction authors; David Winter, assistant to Ralph Baer, the inventor of the first videogame console; Michel Gondry, the special effects god who usually never does interviews. There’s also a beautiful photo series, and a very, very wide spectrum of articles!
What’s next for “Amusement”?
“Amusement” is going to be in English in 2009, and distributed in the US and UK. We’re also producing a videogame for iPhone, and a magazine for a French contemporary art museum.
Abdel Bounane, thank you so much for this great introduction to your magazine, and here’s looking forward to future issues of “Amusement”!