71: Game Journalists on Game Journalism

"'I think we are doing an OK job. I think we are doing a remarkably better job than we were doing even five years ago. But now that we are off the short bus, that does not mean we're heading for graduate school. We have a lot of work ahead of us'"

Slashdot's Michael Zenke speaks with Brandon Sheffield, Brian Crecente, Chris Grant, Chris Kohler, Chris Morris, David Thomas, Frank Cifaldi, Greg Kasavin, Luke Smith and Simon Carless.

Game Journalists on Game Journalism

I would really like to see some true criticism. Example: Gears of War, best game ever and maybe it is. But, it's got ridculous things like guns with glowing parts that would give a soldier's location away, 4 inch thick body armor but nothing projecting the most important part of the soldier - his head, robots that appear and disappear for no reason, missing scenes "we found the resonator" (O RLY? when did that happen), women that show up in a combat zone without shielding, Cities that look like Roman ruins and yet all the buildings are full of automated doors.

I'm only picking on GoW because it's the most recent game but many games are filled with story/setting BS like this and yet Game Journalists rarely bring it up. We don't except these kinds of things in other media. They exist in other media and they are called out on it. Not in games though. Why?

greggman:
I would really like to see some true criticism. I'm only picking on GoW because it's the most recent game but many games are filled with story/setting BS like this and yet Game Journalists rarely bring it up. We don't except these kinds of things in other media. They exist in other media and they are called out on it. Not in games though. Why?

What do you mean we don't accept this is other media?

How does Homer Simpson support his family if he's never at work? How can they build a new kitchen one episode, and then it not be there the next?

The reason people don't write about this stuff is because it's stupid and petty. It's not true criticism.

True criticism would be based on analysing the Locust in context of the US fear of eastern religions. Or exposing the dominant ideology of the American military-industrial complex in video games.

Well... The Simpsons isn't a continuous series, the writers even admit that it's essentially just a disjointed bunch of stories that feed off of each other. We just deal with the inconsistences that arise over the years, Hell, we even poke fun at them.

GoW on the other hand is a singular experience, these things tend to pop out, especially because the game labeled itself a Tactical Shooter. Also, True Criticism involves judging something on an objective basis and pointing out it's flaws, what you're suggesting is an allegorical analysis and in my opinion, GoW's story isn't deep enough for that sort of thing.

greggman:
I would really like to see some true criticism. Example: Gears of War...

Gears of War reminds me of a graphic novel, or an action movie -- stylized enough that I know it isn't real, but immersive enough that I can suspend my disbelief.

After all, it's science fiction. I could understand if you had similar criticisms of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter or Rainbow Six: Vegas, but this is more like criticizing The Matrix because there's no way taking a punch in the Matrix would actually cause your lip to start bleeding in real life. It's a deliberate breach of realism to help get something across.

In all forms of storytelling, verisimilitude is often sacrificed for artistic or utilitarian reasons. For example, I think the characters in Gears don't wear helmets because it would be a lot harder to distinguish between them if they did; it makes characterization much easier. Guns glow so the player can tell them apart at a glance.

Consider Halo, where the Chief is the only human wearing a full helmet, despite the fact that of all of the humans, he probably needs it the least. Hiding his face causes the player to ask whether the Chief even is human. In some ways, it's a plot device.

Here's an example of broken realism that can really hurt immersion: in Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, we're supposed to believe that the Ghosts are deployed in Mexico City, which is quite beautifully rendered. However, over the course of the entire game, we don't see one single innocent bystander. The core of Mexico City is currently home to some 8.5 million people; it should be at least that many in 2013. But whereas Dead Rising is packed to the brim with throngs of zombies, GRAW's Mexico City is, if you'll pardon the pun, a ghost town.

I guess the parts of your point that I'm disputing are (1) that all games should strive for realism, (2) that laughable stories or unrealistic elements are unique to games, and (3) that nobody takes note of this.

I do agree that Gears of War is yet another game about burly men with large guns. That trope alone was enough to completely turn me off when I first heard about it; the promise of seamless co-op was the only thing keeping my interest in the game alive. But, as I posted in Fletcher's first Gears thread, I ultimately had to eat my words.

I don't think it's unreasonable to hold a realistic looking action game to some standard of logic and consistency. Bad logic you get "Universal Soldier" the movie and the critics point it out. Good logic and you get "Aliens" the movie and again the critics point it out. In games all you generally get is stuff on the order of "Universal Soldier" and yet we never get any criticism.

The problem is is game journalists are generally too big of fans so they see everything through rose colored glasses. Movie journalists rarely have this problem or at least the top more famous ones. They might like a particular director or actor but if their latest movie stinks they'll say "I expected better from _____ but he really sucked in this movie because of x, y, and z". Do we get any of that in game journalism?

greggman:
Do we get any of that in game journalism?

There's a very good chance you'll get some of that here on Friday. So stay tuned.

But you're right, of course. You rarely get that kind of sophisticated analytical review because for the most part most game journos are still guys who like games first, and write about them second. As the industry matures (further) we may see some folks come in who are of a more analytical mindset, but there's not much incentive right now. The games themselves are often a barrier to that; both in complexity and subject matter.

greggman:
I don't think it's unreasonable to hold a realistic looking action game...

This is pretty much where you lose me, for two reasons. First, why does the fact that it's an action game matter? If anything, the fact that it's an action game should, if we go with the movie analogy, lower the story bar. Second, as I already noted, Gears is stylized. Real people aren't that burly, and the mostly-humanoid locust are an obvious concession to team-based multiplayer. I don't find the musculature of the characters detracts from the game experience, and I don't agree that gameplay concessions like the humanoid locusts, glowing weapons, et cetera should be sacrificed at the altar of having a good story or appearing more "realistic" (if that's even a universally-desireable goal).

I haven't denied that Gears doesn't have a great story, nor have I suggested that it should be immune to criticism. Gears isn't Marathon, but it's also not Quake. What Gears does have -- and what it's largely being praised for -- is outstanding gameplay. I think you may be mistaking praise for the game for praise for the game's story; check the EuroGamer review (8/10) for one example. Praising a game for having fantastic gameplay while not praising its lacklustre story isn't an example of looking at the game through rose-coloured glasses -- gameplay is what makes a game a game and not a movie, it's literally the essence of gaming. If you don't have gameplay, you don't have a game, and it makes sense to weight reviews accordingly.

It's also worth noting that game reviewers have to review more than movie reviewers. Movies are shorter, for starters, but also, game reviewers have to cover various aspects of the gameplay in addition to the story and the graphics. Game reviews are generally longer than movie reviews for this reason.

To be clear, though, I don't disagree with the general thrust of your point. I think game stories are, by and large, sophomoric. However, the question of whether we should inherently expect more of game stories is at the very least open for debate, because it's clear that you can have a fantastic game with no story (Tetris), an uninteresting story (Gears), or a great story (Marathon). There's a follow-up question, too: if we should inherently expect more of game stories, what exactly should we expect? Examples like Shadow of the Colossus show that you can use a game to ask moral questions without anything close to the level of story detail found in complex movies such as The Departed, which I saw recently and thought was fantastic.

I hope you don't get the feeling that I'm hammering on you or picking nits -- mostly, I'm just taking the ideas you post and using them as a springboard to run off with my own ideas. I just don't agree with all of your premises.

I think the thing we should be criticizing is not that Gears of War, or indeed any specific game, has these continuity errors, but that the game industry by and large considers it acceptable for a game to have a plot even more threadbare than the female lead's costume in a summer blockbuster. Why, in short, the no middle ground between the fluffy and the cerebral is so bare. Why the only times when the story isn't just used as a half-assed excuse for the gunfights (in such times when a story would add any value to the game, that is) is when it's deliberately created for the purpose of telling that story.

How can we expect meaningful criticism (appreciated by adults, that is) when the latest, greatest games are tamed down and catering to kids? Will an independent videogame company risk its livelihood on a game made strictly for a mature audience?

When we talk about videogame journalism being in its adolescent phase, it's also a reflection on the products the industry offers. However, I think game journalism should challenge and educate developers/publishers to make more intelligent offerings... and grow the industry.

I think The Escapist is doing a great job of this.

I'd like to see a game review site solely written by critical minds, taking the gaming industry to task. So, Escapist... when are we going to see a game review section to your portal? Huh? ;-)

I have done a review of a game where I tore it a new one when it came to the story. It was for Rainbow Six, and I said I was tired seeing the American military complex dominating these types of games.

My editor told me he appreciated the sentiment, but asked me re-write it because it wouldn't suit our readership... and he's right.

Most people don't read a review of a game to read an essay - they want to know if it's worth $100* and is better than the last game they played.

Most of our forum regulars don't even read our reviews - they simply look at the score. Whilst this is very disheartening to learn, it's good to know.

*I live in Australia

Well, me and friends came up with our website for this very reason, we tackle our Game Reviews on a multitude of levels, letting little if nothing escape our grasp...

www.dailyraider.com

(Yeah, it's a parody of DailyRadar, we consider ourselves their polar opposite)

GF, you're now on notice. We would prefer that your sole contributions to this forum not be to pimp your own site. If it doesn't add to the conversation, it's not welcome.

/mod

 

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