The Problem with Video Game Journalism
I wrote this over a year ago but never published it. In the wake of Gamer Gate and questions about ethics in games journalism, I think it makes sense to publish it now.
I read a lot of video game blogs and news/review sites. I regularly read Kotaku, Gamesradar, the Gameological Society, Joystiq, and the Escapist, and I have a “video games” category on my Flipboard account that collects articles from a bunch of other sites as well. I think there is some great video game journalism and commentary out there. I like what Jeremy Parish did with 1up during it’s dying days, and I like his stuff at Usgamer.net. I like Tom Chick’s writing, and I’m happy that the Gameological Society exists as an antidote to much of contemporary games journalism. Because frankly, a lot of games journalism is terrible. It’s suffering from the same challenges that plague journalism as a whole: trying to actually make money with writing online. What follows is a list of things that drives me nuts about video games journalism.
1. It’s all about what’s coming next and building hype. Last year was all about Assassins Creed III. Preview articles, trailers, endless articles detailing the few new gameplay details that Ubisoft fed to the press. Then the game comes out, a few reviews get written, and…zOMG! Assassins Creed IV!!!!!!!!! So much of it is focused on what is coming out versus actually appreciating what is out. There’s very little time to reflect on current games or look back at recently reviewed titles. The same issue is present in movies and music, but games is also very prone to it, which leads me to point #2
2. So much of “games journalism” is just publishing press releases. In an effort to ramp up posts, websites have taken to basically just posting press releases. Most website’s “news” is basically taken whole cloth from emails they get from PR people.
3. The need to fill the air leads to a whole lot of jibber jabber about nothing. Much in the way that Fox and CNN will grind a story into a fine pulp in an effort to fill air time, websites will run endless articles and opinion pieces about a story even when they have little new information or anything to say. You end up with 7,000 posts about what it means that SimCity had a rough launch, or lots of pontificating and punditry about the XBox One without anything to back it up.
4. Fanboy Culture. I love sci-fi movies and comic books and video games. I am much less into the fanboy culture that surrounds these things. At its best, fanboyism is full of juvenile over-enthusiasm and a tendency to overuse the word “awesome,” both of which make for shitty journalism. The darker side of fanboyism is a sense of extreme entitlement about the properties that the fans love.
5. Geek Snark. I’m a music geek, so I know how fun it is to dismiss things people love as lame or trite, and about championing the obscure over the popular. I also know how easy it is to get jaded when you spend a lot of time reviewing things. So I sympathize with the tendency towards snark, but it is still an ugly tendency. Games journalism has a fair amount of snark. “Broken” is a favorite adjective of game critics, as if an underpolished or tricky game mechanic is a sign of failure.