Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
27 January 2006
The *1* Problem with Videogame Journalism
What we call videogame journalism doesn't have five problems, it has one: It serves two masters, but tries to act like it doesn't.

How can you expect to review a game correctly when you've mostly played beta versions and a little with the retail version in the scramble before it goes on sale? You can't sometimes, but being late on a review means lost money so you'll make an exception.

How can you expect to know the value of games when they're given to you for free? You can't, but for games that would otherwise cost you money, you'll make an exception.

How can you expect to be really critical of a company when those same companies invite you to parties ... press events to learn about their new games? You can't, but for the free travel, food, and other goodies that would otherwise cost you money, you'll make an exception.

And why do you tell people you're doing it? For the gamers. You're just doing it for them, because you love games. All you have to do is read the faux blogs that big commercial sites are running nowadays and you'll see...those are real, honest opinions, right?

This is why people read the reviews at GameFAQs and other Common Man Review Sites: those writers are probably not influenced by money. They are influenced by individual biases, yes, but at least we have less reason to believe it's motivated by a paycheck at the end of the month.

Now we have game journalists talking about what's wrong with themselves. I'm sure getting it posted on Slashdot won't make them any money either.

What about me? Am I not just a prostitute of a different degree? I just like running my mouth. As if I needed to tell you that.

This message brought to you by Marxist Gamers of America.
--Matt Matthews at 12:23
Comment [ 7 ]

Comments on this post:

I saw the Firing Squad article. Their opinion is fine. What I take issue with is how "games journalism" is repeatedly and automatically equated to "games reviewing." Sure, reviewing games can be part of games journalism, but it seems that people think they're one in the same when they're not.

When people think of a traditional journalist, they don't automatically think of Roger Ebert. That may be kind of a bad analogy, but do you see what I mean?

By Anonymous Kris Graft, at 27 January, 2006 14:07  

Yep, Kris, I sure do see what you mean. I first saw that idea over on VGM Watch and I don't recall who said it. (It was in the comments, I think.) I'm not even sure it's original to that writer.

I started to acknowledge that idea, in fact. I did have in this post "(or what we call videogame journalism)" when it was a draft and edited it out since it made my usual writing even more clumsy.

Anyway, the point you make is worth saying: Reviewer != journalist.

That doesn't mean we don't still need someone as respected as Ebert. But we pretty sorely need more disinterested reporting, too. If it were a different time, I might have even said "we need our own Woodward"...

By Blogger jvm, at 27 January, 2006 14:11  

I really need to dug up the reference, but there was a fellow on NPR, iirc, who was interviewed on how giving movies good reviews was the currency to buy your way into more early releases. Without the good reviews, you didn't get invited, and without the invites, well, you get the point. Hungry reviewer.

Not much different than what's going on here except that video games don't yet have Ebert who, iirc, the fellow mentioned above mentioned by name. (Please take all this with a grain of salt.) Ebert was the name so big that simply mentioning your movie, even that it stunk, was good (my point, I believe), and managed to get himself above the "praise to publish, not perish" setup.

But that still leaves us with where the real problem of game journalism appears, imo: Where the 'true' news items are essentially commercials for games the same site is selling. Though it's often not quite as obvious as IMG, the ESPN/ABC effect in gaming 'news' is painfully common, toothless ombudsman or no.

By Blogger rufbo, at 27 January, 2006 14:47  

Excellent point by Kris above.

As for reviews on GameFAQs, and any other "Common Man" reviews -- they may not have money as an influence but they are definitely influenced by fanboyism and buyer's remorse factors. And sometimes sheer ignorance of the genre. I once saw a review of "Fire Emblem" rated 1/10 because "you just press attack and they show a movie of them attacking - you don't get to fight or anything!" I don't really see how that's better.

I'd like to think that professionalism, or some level of it, can supercede monetary concerns. I guess what I'm saying is don't confuse lack of integrity with incompetence.

By Blogger Alex, at 27 January, 2006 16:42  

Buyer's remorse belongs in reviews, and to a lesser degree so does fanboyism. Are they not how someone feels about a game? These people will reflect honest opinions that others will have. Any slant bought, even indirectly, doesn't reflect a real opinion, right?

And you guys are right, Common Man reviews aren't the solution. They're the other extreme. If we apply the "90% of everything is crap" rule to reviews, then even with Common Man reviews you're going to get lots of dreck.

As for professionalism, I'd say the burden is on the big media to prove they have some. This past year, we had GameSpy retroactively edit their writer's Donkey Konga 2 review, GameSpot report on the Hot Coffee mod as "probably bogus" without bothering to check, and 1UP's cribbed DOA4 strategy guide.

By Blogger jvm, at 27 January, 2006 17:41  

At least with Common Man reviews, you generally get several different opinions together. It is fairly easy to read and skim several to get a somewhat well-rounded opinion of a game. Often learning more than a single 4-6 page IGN or 1Up.com review offers in the process.

Indeed, I've often resorted to this practice when looking for either specific information or an overall feel.

By Anonymous Baines, at 27 January, 2006 19:20  

There's something else nobody talks about. I've been trying to publish vidoegame stories about Second Life and CounterStrike for over two years now in non-videogame centered publications, and it's frustrating. I'm looking for a different kind of writer...

Videogames are affecting movies, money, religion, law, and journalism, but publications about these things aren't really interested. The only people who care about videogames are magazines about buying videogames.

The Woodward of videogames journalism will be the writer who can write about videogames in a way that forces non-videogame buyers people to think, really think, about videogames. There are plenty of fluffy "look at people having cyber sex in Second Life" pieces, but nobody is helping people see how videogames are affecting reality.

By Blogger Jason Boog, at 09 February, 2006 14:31  

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