Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Why Games Journalists May Not Reflect the Ideas of the Gaming Public

Shamus Young | 2 Sep 2014 19:00
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The other thing that sets us apart is age. While the average gamer is supposedly 30, that includes Facebook-gamers and Wii Sports types. Those people are gamers too, but they probably don't spend their time on places like The Escapist, reading reviews and engaging with critics. Which means that the average age of the people reading this article is still under 30. Conversely, most of us game journalists are over 30. (I'm 43.) We have spouses and careers and we've been playing longer. I have been shooting dudes in a first-person way since the very first id shooter. No, I don't mean Wolfenstein. I mean the actual first id shooter.

I've been doing this a long time. I devoured shooters in my 20s. I played them with waning enthusiasm in my 30s. And now that I've been steering the same generic angry white dude through gunfights for over two decades, I'm kind of looking for something new. And no, I don't mean, "Our game also has a flamethrower and an upgrade tree" kind of new. I mean new ideas. Symbolism. Depth. I find myself leaning towards the arthouse scene because that's where the new ideas are coming from. That's where I find experiences that will give me the kind of stimulation I got out of Unreal 16 years ago. While lots of gamers thought Gone Home was "boring" because there weren't any physical conflicts or fail states, I got an emotional jolt out of it because it was packed with stuff that I wasn't getting in all the other games I played that year. I'm good on conflict. I've reached plenty of fail states. But this? This felt different and novel, and I don't find a lot of novelty in games these days.

"Well then," you might say, "No offense to you, Shamus, but maybe it's time we got rid of old codgers like you and got some young blood that better reflects our views!"

Fair enough. (You meanie.) That does happen sometimes. There's a pretty good turnover in this business. But it turns out that accurately reflecting what the audience is thinking isn't the most important part of the job. At least, that's not what gets the articles written and brings the eyeballs to the page. As games journalists age, they refine their craft at writing. Their historical perspective becomes deeper. Their discipline increases. (In my experience, kids fresh out of college don't tend to keep deadlines the way the older folks do.) Their list of industry contacts gets larger. It makes very little sense for a web site to ditch someone like that in favor of someone who will give "more accurate review scores". Whatever that means.

Movie audiences and movie critics face this same problem, and they have basically made peace with it by now. MovieBob talked about this last week. Game criticism is just following the trajectory set by movie criticism decades ago: The people doing the reviews eventually - by the very nature of doing their jobs - diverge from the tastes and preferences of their own audience.

Don't hate on a critic because they're "pretentious". You too might someday experience that moment where you'll stop right in the middle of a gunfight and find yourself thinking, "Who are these guys? Why am I shooting them? Why should I care? Is this all there is?"

It's not an agenda. It's not a conspiracy. This is just how criticism works.

Shamus Young is a programmer, critic, comic, and crank. You can read more of his work here.

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