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Yellow Game Journalism

Richard Aihoshi | 28 Apr 2009 13:02
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Inspired by real-life events involving the New York Times' Judith Miller and the CIA's Valerie Plame, the 2008 political thriller Nothing but the Truth is a movie about a newspaper reporter who reveals the identity of an undercover operative. When she refuses to disclose her source to a grand jury convened by a special government prosecutor, she is cited for contempt of court and sent to jail. Steadfast in her belief that talking would violate her journalistic integrity, she remains there for a year before being sent to prison for two more. During this time, she is nominated as a finalist for the highest American honor in her profession, a Pulitzer Prize.

In his will, Joseph Pulitzer funded both the famed awards, which date from 1917, and Columbia University's Journalism School, the first of its kind in the country. However, he had initially offered the money some time prior to his death in 1911. Even though the amount was millions of dollars, it took the university a number of years to accept, perhaps because he had made it publishing newspapers, the most prominent being the New York World, that were renowned for practicing "yellow journalism," a style emphasizing sensationalism and exaggeration over the objective reporting of facts or the presentation of incisive, penetrating commentary.

Nearly a century later, I wonder what Joseph Pulitzer would think about the current state of game journalism. Is it more likely he would he be looking at those of us who work in this field for potential prizewinners, or for writers to staff his papers as they fight to pull readers away from the competition?

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When I look at my profession, including my own work, it's not difficult to come up with pointed questions. What isn't easy is finding fully satisfactory answers. A number of my concerns involve previews and reviews. Most publications emphasize them, often heavily. The main reason is obvious. They're popular, which means people buy magazines and visit websites in order to read them. That said, is it possible there are too many in total and not enough that truly stand out? And how helpful are they?

Turning to reviews, I wonder how well the "system" serves the interests of the entire gamer audience. For example, how journalistically sound is it to base a review on a pre-release copy in order to publish at time of shipment? Even if it's gold code, what if a patch is already available when the game arrives at retail? Saying the review covers what's in the box is a defense, but it just doesn't feel completely valid or satisfactory when I've played the patched version. In a broader sense, I also question whether tight deadlines can affect depth and quality.

Also, some important topics can get short shrift. For instance, community is clearly a critical element of any MMOG, but reviews may not even mention it, never mind discuss it in a manner reflecting its significance. In this same genre, reviewers typically only play one character class and may barely touch on other elements like crafting. As for my other favorite genre, RPGs, replayability is impossible to comment on knowledgeably when meeting a deadline precludes thoroughly playing different characters or factions and trying various strategies.

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