Even before COVID-19 reshaped the circumstances around our society, I listened to podcasts more than music. Podcasts are a great way to get through the day while learning about new and exciting developments in various fields and disciplines—including, yes, videogames. If you’re looking for recommendations, here are the handful that I think are the best videogame podcasts around right now. You should be aware going in that some of these podcasts skew left-of-center to far-left politically, even if not overtly. I make no apologies for that; just wanted you to know the “keep politics out of games” podcast list is on some other site from some other writer. I am very interested in recommendations and not at all interested in arguments.
Waypoint Radio is Vice’s games podcast, and one of my favorite podcasts, period. It is one of the two I am usually talking about when I tell my friends “I heard about [game/concept/news event/sociopolitical movement] on a leftist podcast.” It’s simply one of the best around.
With longtime co-host Austin Walker recently departing to new game developer Possibility Space, Waypoint Radio is now hosted by Rob Zacny, Patrick Klepek, and producer Ricardo Contreras, and frequently featuring Natalie Watson, with rotating appearances by Vice Motherboard writer Gita Jackson. They’ve also featured such guests as Matthew Gault (Motherboard/Angry Planet). (Jackson is a former assistant editor at Paste, and Walker and Zacny have both written for Paste, but none of them have worked with the author of this piece.—Ed.)
Despite what the podcast page on the actual Vice website will tell you, Waypoint didn’t stop updating in July. In fact, in addition to their regular twice weekly podcasts (which release on Tuesday and Friday), this summer they launched Waypoint Plus, which gives subscribers access to bonus content like special episodes, including Waypoint After Dark, gaming deep-dives, an ongoing series on Michael Mann movies, and an ongoing series on the catalog of games and films adapted from the novel Roadside Picnic.
No Cartridge Audio is another eclectic podcast mainly focused on games analysis through a leftist lens, and one I’m always delighted to see appear with a new episode in my Spotify or Patreon feed. Host Trevor Strunk covers videogames and videogame news on “Patch Notes” with cohost Jonathan Bernhardt, whose writing on Mass Effect: Andromeda convinced me to download that off Game Pass. English Ph.D. Strunk also covers anime with cohost Andrew “Piss” in “No Wallscroll,” and was for a while pairing books with videogames in “GG No Reread.” Myriad patreon mini-projects have come and gone, like breaking down Marx’s Capital and going through the detective show Homicide.
He has frequent contributors like Sean McTiernan, who came on a patreon episode this summer to deconstruct the concept of nerdcore rap, and recurring guests like games writer (and Paste contributor) Dia Lacina, Marc Normandin (labor politics and RetroXP), and guests from podcasts as disparate as Chapo Trap House and Shutdown Fullcast.
What sets No Cartridge Audio apart is the way Trevor’s personality and politics allow the conversations and interviews to flow effortlessly and smoothly. It’s like when you have a teacher or mentor that tells you something as if you already know it, without making you feel stupid for not knowing it. Except that Trevor Strunk and his guests are all the professors, all witty and fun and irreverent while talking seriously about videogames.
Mayhaps you’ve heard of Cracked.com. Between 2017 and 2019, they hemorrhaged a lot of talent. They still have—and, so, periodically lose—great comedy writers. Some of those great comedy writers do shows together as part of the Small Beans group. Small Beans has multiple podcasts on movies, some current events and personal interest podcasts, a Coen Brothers movie show and a Stephen King movies show, and—my personal favorite—1Upsmanship, where writer/IGN editor Michael Swaim and director/film instructor Adam Ganser analyze new and old videogames to try to pick the best 100 or 200 that you would show aliens to demonstrate the art form. They structure the episodes through a series of segments, starting with a ‘speedrun’ where one of the hosts or guests summarizes the game, before each host and guest gets to do a “Player 1/2/3” rant, then “Game On” where they debate the games, concluding with “Keep or Delete,” where they decide if the game deserves to be part of the gaming canon.
The natural contrasts in the ways that the hosts interpret the purpose of games makes for interesting engagement. Swaim bends more toward concept and story, where Ganser trends slightly more toward form and function, but that might be oversimplifying. I’ve listened multiple times to their episodes on the Fallout games, the Red Dead Redemption games, and Skyrim. It’s always a joy when they’ve got guests like IGN’s Max Scoville, or Tom Reimann of Gamefully Unemployed and Collider.
Bonus: you can find other interesting artistic analysis at Small Beans’ sibling channel Gamefully Unemployed (with whom they share a series called Star Trek: The Next Futurama) and their sibling channel Unpopular Opinion/The Unpops Network
I’ve only started listening to this podcast relatively recently, but it’s already become one of my favorites. It’s based in East London’s Brick Lane with a rotating cast of Shay Thompson, Samantha Greer, Alex CG, Astrid Johnson, Mat Jones, Kit Critchley, and Alex P. They’ve got great intro and outro music and do new podcasts, videos, and livestreams every week. The review podcasts get shortened for their regular podcatcher releases, but are available in longer form on Patreon. The episode which sold me on this show is titled ”Wholesome games are violent too” ; it’s an excavation of the idea of wholesomeness that explores the ways social construct scenes like “cottagecore” are sometimes used to smuggle violently reactionary viewpoints into the mainstream.
As you can tell from the name, this podcast owes its existence to GamesIndustry.Biz, a trade publication that takes a very serious look at the labor and economic news of the videogame industry. As such, their perspective is largely geared more to insiders than consumers, but it isn’t insular; it’s instructive. Like Glass House, it’s largely based in Britain. Some of the episodes I’ve found most compelling include their work on Six Days in Felujah, their coverage of FIFA Ultimate Team, and a recent episode on transphobia in GTA. It’s a very good news and commentary show that also features E3 and game-of-the-year reviews and interviews with game developers like Brenda Romero and Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart.
Hosted by Heather Anne Campbell, Nick Wiger, and producer Matt Apadoca, How Did This Get Played? is more of a comedy podcast than any other on this list, but no less insightful for that. Formed in June 2019 as a younger sibling podcast to Earwolf’s How Did This Get Made? podcast about bad movies, How Did This Get Played? focuses on the worst and weirdest games around. Luckily that latter descriptor has allowed them to engage with things like Katamari Damacy, Yakuza 0 and Death’s Stranding, so it’s not all just scraping the barrel.
Campbell, Wiger, and Apadoca also started doing a series called 70 Minutes in Gaming Heaven where they talk about all the things they’re enjoying playing regularly to break up the experience of living in ‘gaming hell’ with games like Duke Nukem Forever or Postal. They also do general episodes around concepts in the world of videogames like backlog and first person shooters, and have run series on the Mario games and some of Kojima’s work. One thing you should be aware of is that, as an Earwolf podcast, they archive some of their older stuff, which you can also read about on their surprisingly extensive Wikipedia entry.
A lower-budget production, and maybe the most apolitical of this bunch, but not in a way I find overwhelming or underwhelming, Goddamn GameCube largely focuses on gaming history. The hosts, Greg Alexandropolous and Beppe, look over entire series catalogs, like Halo, Metroid, and—this summer, with the remastered releases—Mass Effect. I thought the Mass Effect coverage was especially strong for the way it explored the precipitous decline of the series’ writing over the course of the original trilogy. They’ve recently looked at the history of the MMORPG Runescape, the Game Boy Advance, the “interactive movie” genre, and the history of DLC. They do reviews of newer games as well, like the Demon’s Souls remake and Resident Evil: Village, and even gave an inside look at working at GameStop. Give them a listen.
People Make Games is a relatively new podcast, and it looks at the routes people took to get into the game industry. The title tells you the subject—this is a podcast about people that make games. Host Chris Bratt interviews people from around the games media. One thing about this podcast that’s very different from the others on this list is that it releases monthly, which can be taken as an upside or a downside. The first episode came out at the top of June, interviewing Austin Walker, followed by a July episode focused on Kotaku Editor-in-Chief Patricia Hernandez, Mark Brown of Game Maker’s Toolkit in August, Eurogamer video team head Aoife Wilson in September, and video essayist/critic Jacob Geller near the top of this month. Every episode is around—or just under—an hour, except for the first, which was nearly two hours. It’s the games press interviewing the games press, and it’s a very clear-eyed and earnest look at the role of games media and the paths people take through the industry.
Kotaku Splitscreen is hosted by Lisa Marie Segarra, Ethan Gach, and Michael Fahey. Segarra and Gach replaced Nathan Grayson and Ashley Parrish in early August, but the show has kept going strong with topical insights on Deathloop and loop games, the phenomenon that is Super Smash Bros, and the “Metroidvania” genre. That Metroidvania episode might have been my favorite so far, just because it’s a genre I’ve been trying to get my head around for a little while (I finally started Ori and the Blind Forest earlier this week). They release new episodes every Friday.
Nextlander is something of an offshoot from Giant Bomb, one of the titans of the gaming media. After ownership changes, restructuring, and a gradual trickle of talent away in 2020, Vinny Caravella, Alex Navarro, and Brad Shoemaker announced they were leaving the site in May of this year. Nextlander teamed up with Waypoint for some of their E3 coverage and are now 19 episodes into this new podcast venture discussing what they’re playing and what’s going on in the games industry. Episodes release every Thursday, with the last one focusing on such topics as Metroid Dread, Back 4 Blood, M. Night Shyamalan, the EA-FIFA split, the new GTA Trilogy remasters, and new leadership producing the Yakuza games. Each episode goes a little over two hours, so there’s plenty of time for them to dig in weekly to all the latest in gaming news. They have bonus content and features available through their Patreon.
This is the podcast from Uppercut Crit. The actual first episode I heard was a rerelease of a live Star Wars tabletop roleplaying game in May. They’re also responsible for the most interesting audio coverage I encountered of the Mass Effect re-release. While lots of reviews I read and podcasts I listened to rightfully pointed out that the games are still fun as updated, Palin’ Around followed in the vein of articles about Mass Effect being a space cop simulator with neoliberal-to-soft-fascist politics. And they also deconstructed the way that combined with the centering of the cisgender-heterosexual male gaze in a way that was not neutral, but rather limited the possibilities of storytelling in unimaginative ways. This is going to sound like a joke, but I’m kind of serious when I say that I never before considered that I should have had the option to date a lady Krogan (or Wrex) before hearing this show.
Fanbyte also has a podcast, where you get to hear from the Fanbyte staff. Hosted by a rotating combination of merritt k, Steven Strom, Nicholas Grayson, and Danielle Riendeau, they review and dive deep into videogames culture and topics, including finding discount games at your local thrift store, sometimes joined by guests. Their most recent episode focused on Dungeon Encounters, The Sundew, Cozy Grove, Mass Effect Legendary Edition (which is getting a surprising amount of talk in this list), and Superliminal, plus their own new game segments: “Drug or Pokemon” and “Nintendo $64,000 Pyramid.” Like Nextlander, Glasshouse Games, Palin’ Around, and really almost all of the shows on the list, one of the great values of Channel F is that it’s a component of a larger game media project that is helping push analysis, criticism, and discourse in games further, while being diverse in perspective, eclectic in taste, and generally very entertaining. As of the Oct. 20 episode, merrit’s got a new unofficial tagline: “A show for discerning listeners.”
New Player Has Joined was the most community focused of all of the gaming podcasts I listened to. It was earnest and authentic. And it was focused on having people on, usually other comedians or entertainers, to talk about the games they love and why they love them. During the height of the pandemic lockdown, they raised money for progressive candidates through their gaming livestreams and online tabletop games with fans. They made daily episodes talking about the state of the world and U.S. politics. They kept their Discord up even as they made massive changes in their personal and professional lives and decided to stop doing the podcast. The episodes are all still available on Spotify. You should give them a listen if you get a chance. Perhaps the best episode they ever did was on America’s Army, but they also had a great take on Jade Empire, multiple Dragon Ages, and more. From sports to mainstream classics to little-known loves, this show was a classic
Kevin Fox, Jr. is a writer, historian, nonprofit worker, and Paste intern. He loves videogames, pop culture, sports, and human rights, and can be found on Twitter @kevinfoxjr.