Unlike websites—which are always 100% super serious at all times—magazines are famed for a thing called ‘jokes’. These are, inevitably, published on the back page, because the alternative would be telling you what was planned in next month’s issue, and, reader, let us tell you, the nature of print lead times in a fast moving industry does absolutely not support such behaviour.
Here, then, and fashionably late, let’s round up 2020’s slate of PC Gamer magazine back pages, alongside some editor’s commentary revealing what the hell we were thinking. If you’d like to hold future back page jokes in your hands, consider subscribing to PC Gamer in the UK or US.
Robin: So this year, all the back pages were done under my tenure as mag editor (with contributions from the team, of course). I request that no one hurts my feelings too badly.
Phil: Back when I was mag editor, doing this round up always felt like getting my school report card, so I’m excited to bring that heat to someone else for a change. Anyway, yes, this seems fine. Battle passes, huh, those sure are a thing still.
Robin: This is sort of the PC gaming equivalent of doing a stand-up set about airline food, I’ll admit.
Fraser: Feeling a bit called out by “Try to explain to someone what’s cool about Warhammer,” implying there’d be some kind of difficulty there, when in fact Warhammer is very cool for reasons I will absolutely list, probably in another article to fill my content quota.
Phil: Having “Bad Back Page Idea Generator” be the level four unlock is a classic back page survival tactic, and I’m glad to see it continue. Don’t like this joke, reader? Maybe that’s the meta joke.
Robin: Not the last time you’ll see me go to that well this year…
Robin: I know Big Geralt is pretty low-hanging fruit, but the ultra-wide stamp still makes me laugh here. I think this was a response to the Post Office releasing Tomb Raider stamps or something?
Phil: There’s a real art to a good back page visual sight gag, and Big Geralt made me do a proper chuckle. I will note this is the first instance of the four-things-in-an-abstract-grid layout that we will absolutely be seeing more of down the page. Keep an eye out for that, fellow pattern recognisers.
Fraser: This one just makes me sad because I can’t actually stick Big Geralt on an envelope. I’m laughing, but there’s a wistful sigh at the end.
Phil: The PC Gamer office has been closed for most of this year, which has led to a slight shift in how back pages are made. Now, once a month—if possible on a Friday when the team is at its most work addled—Robin will solicit ideas over a video meeting. We knew we had this one when someone said, “what if an RPG tank was just an actual tank” and people laughed.
Robin: I think this one might have been funnier in that meeting than it is on the page. Still really like the idea of a Hitman level set in a D&D dungeon, though.
Phil: Really, Robin, your job as mag editor is mostly trying to distinguish between what’s funny and what’s Friday-meeting-and-everyone-just-wants-to-not-with-this funny.
Fraser: ‘The tank is a tank’ makes this one for me, and I still quite want to play this RPG. We definitely laughed a lot during that meeting, even if, yeah, it doesn’t really get the chuckles going as much now that it’s on the page.
Robin: This one’s a bit wordy, but I stand by both the sentiment and the name ‘John Pongman’.
Phil: I will defend any back page that references Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X., the funniest game name.
Fraser: This one just makes me stressed out about the relentless march of time, and it has a lot of words. People don’t want words with their mags.
Robin: I’m happy to report that following a series of private and public shamings, including this incriminating back page, I now both clean my PC regularly and keep my desktop screen tidy and orderly. I’m a changed man.
Phil: This is fun, but mostly I’m just taken with the phrase “Andy ‘Cashback’ Kelly”, which is very satisfying to say out loud.
Robin: The surname ‘Kelly’ is a real gift when it comes to nicknames.
Fraser: I’m just happy I can show this to my mum so she knows I’m one of the actual squeaky clean ones. PC Gamer’s perfect little angel. Wish I had a cool nickname though.
Phil: Based on that last sentence, let’s go with “Fibbin'” Fraser Brown.
Fraser: Tactics! As the Tactics Boy, I fully endorse this one—it’s a good ‘un. Wouldn’t risk taking that corner at 65% though.
Phil: First impression: I did a little laugh, good job! Second impression: I start to wonder if the Forza Horizon gag is good enough to support the entire page on its own, and if doing four was maybe hedging our bets a bit. Third impression: I note that the hit, crit and aim numbers are the same in each screenshot, even where the context doesn’t make sense, and remember the cold dread of having to produce one of these once every four weeks, often hours before we had to go to press.
Robin: Yeah I think we did struggle to translate this idea visually—probably at 5pm on deadline day. In my head it was an easy one—only when I passed it over to my art editor did I realise it might be tricky. Side note: I think, much like our ‘Long Haul Flight Simulator’ back page last year, turn-based Tetris might have become an actual thing in the time since we ran this?
Fraser: I remember Forza being the one that got everyone laughing in the meeting, and then we just had to come up with three more, which we maybe just rattled off so we could finish it up. I think they’re all still winners, though, and visually it more than does the job. Reticle, hit chance, that’s all you really need.
Phil: I’ll admit, the PUBG one is a good a maths joke as you will find in any magazine in the year 2020.
Fraser: I think we maybe tried to do two things here that didn’t really work together—showcasing overlooked destinations, but then giving them scores. I’d rate Hell higher too. Nice and warm, lots of company, good if you like being poked with things. Two stars at least.
Phil: I’m a fan of this, but—as anyone who goes back and looks at my stint making back pages will note—I’m a sucker for a faked mag page.
Robin: It was supposed to look like a travel brochure I think…
Robin: For context, this was our Top 100 issue. I thought just doing a Bottom 100 joke would be too mean, though the problem with this is that it’s too close to something we’d actually write. I think the accidentally earnest entries reflect that.
Fraser: Yeah, this ended up looking like a real feature, but I still kinda love it? Gotta respectfully disagree with Tom, however, because Space Marine definitely belongs in the bottom 100.
Phil: We’ve definitely done something similar to this before for a Top 100 back page, but importantly it was before we started putting these online in annual round-ups, so the statute of limitations has for sure expired.
Robin: I remember being concerned that we needed to make this one as obviously stupid as possible to make sure no one thought we were announcing a real game. I’m not sure who came up with the idea originally, but I definitely came up with those fake Star Wars place names—they reflect the disdain I had for the series at the time, and specifically for its obsession with deserts. My feelings have been softened since by the excellent (and desert-heavy) The Mandalorian.
Phil: It’s weird how many times over the years the back page has functioned as a sort of therapy space for writers to work through their conflicted feelings about Star Wars. Anyway: this one has real flair to it. Good stuff.
Fraser: Love it, and I’d probably play it too.
Robin: This one very much falls into the category of back pages designed solely to make me laugh. If anyone else got any joy out of it that’s fine, but it was primarily just a little treat for the R man.
Phil: Silly annotations are always a winner. To be clear, we’ve critiqued a lot of these, but there’s nothing close to as bad as the “Borderlands gun that shoots hot takes” mess that I let happen last year.
Fraser: I was still news editor when we did this one and part of my daily routine was searching for more weird obelisks in Flight Sim to write about because people were just ravenous for these things. Like Robin, I’m a big fan of this one.
Phil: All hail the obelisks.
Robin: There you go—another defensive ‘we know the back page is bad’ joke. I can’t remember who came up with the line about breaking down the tough fibres in bad tweets but it still makes me chuckle, so I consider this one a success for that alone.
Fraser: This wasn’t the first time Robin got Cyberpunk’d for the mag, but doesn’t he look lovely? The gags are good, but really it’s the image that makes this work. I would pay for Robin to get that tattoo sleeve.
Phil: Big fan of the lengths we’ve gone to here to make a “Call of Duty sure does take up a lot of hard drive space” joke.
Robin: Yeah this is a great example of the core joke getting away from us a bit. I think my art editor John picked the perfect slightly lame diagram of a brain to illustrate it, and ‘Brubble’ still makes me laugh—a great tired-on-deadline attempt at coming up with a believable social media name.
Fraser: “Grandparents’ names deleted to make room for gun skins” is very good.
Robin: This one is very bleak, though in my defence I put it together during our grim final deadline of the year.
Phil: Ah, yes, some real two-and-a-half-week issue deadline energy here.
Robin: I remember agonising for ages over whether it was funnier to put the Warhammer thing first or the real thing first in this joke construction. The struggles of comedy.
Phil: God, we needed that Christmas break.
Fraser: I feel hopeless just looking at this. What a way to end the year. If we ever escape Hell, I might allow myself to laugh.