106: Can't Wait Till Tomorrow

Can't Wait Till Tomorrow

"The larger cost of the entire approach is significant. Both journalists and developers like to portray games as items of cultural importance, but, so long as the subjects of game journalism are treated as little more than items for sale, it becomes difficult to make that case. 'What are you playing now?' and 'What are you looking forward to?' become the only questions anyone is interested in."

Troy Goodfellow examines the gaming media inherent future bias.

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Good article. Many reviewers have a long memory for games, yet generally the best context we get is if the game under review is a sequel. Comparing games critically or for historical context is great, but it's not useful to readers if they can't find them. That needs to be as easy as going to Amazon, putting it in my Netflix queue, or hopping on Itunes. Gametap and Wii's virtual console are definitely steps in the right direction.

The UK magazine industry is pretty good on this. PCG have their Extra Life section (sixteen pages in the last issue I bought), PC Zone have something similar, and I think Edge does some things as well.

hawksdr:
Comparing games critically or for historical context is great, but it's not useful to readers if they can't find them. That needs to be as easy as going to Amazon, putting it in my Netflix queue, or hopping on Itunes. Gametap and Wii's virtual console are definitely steps in the right direction.

This is an important point. Historical and cultural context is even more elusive when the technology is all too happy to turn its back on any sense of permanence. But there are all kinds of durable stories to be found in today's games. Even comparative reviews would help - instead of just complaining that it's all WW2 and elves, look at games as images of WW2 and elves.

Tom Edwards:
The UK magazine industry is pretty good on this. PCG have their Extra Life section (sixteen pages in the last issue I bought), PC Zone have something similar, and I think Edge does some things as well.

The US magazines are sometimes successful with this too, but it's more sporadic than the coverage in Edge (which is really a gaming lifestyle mag in many ways.) My former stomping grounds at CGM would run gaming culture stories from time to time as well as some really creative stuff (like when Tom Chick told of his experiences trying to lose weight with a computer fitness program) and it was a column heavy publication. But readers would, apparently, look for previews/reviews. That's what they expect.

I will freely admit, of course, that I'm a part of the problem. Reviews/previews/interviews are so easy to write. Good solid features and columns are hard work and I envy those who can produce good work as consistently as some do.

hawksdr:
Good article. Many reviewers have a long memory for games, yet generally the best context we get is if the game under review is a sequel. Comparing games critically or for historical context is great, but it's not useful to readers if they can't find them. That needs to be as easy as going to Amazon, putting it in my Netflix queue, or hopping on Itunes. Gametap and Wii's virtual console are definitely steps in the right direction.

I couldn't agree more. It has always saddened me how quickly games permanently disappear from shelves. For example, Deus Ex is lauded as one of the best games ever made, but try to find a copy in your local store.

Luckily, services like Steam are starting to carry old games. I suppose it's because a digital store had nearly infinite shelf space.

Troy Goodfellow:

Even comparative reviews would help - instead of just complaining that it's all WW2 and elves, look at games as images of WW2 and elves.

Good call. By looking at games that way, it wouldn't require reviewers to stay within the culture of games. There's no reason that literature, music, and art can't be brought into a review instead of just story, sound, and graphics.

Trillinon:

For example, Deus Ex is lauded as one of the best games ever made, but try to find a copy in your local store.

Yup and even if you can find it, will it still run on your computer? Heh.

hawksdr:
Good call. By looking at games that way, it wouldn't require reviewers to stay within the culture of games. There's no reason that literature, music, and art can't be brought into a review instead of just story, sound, and graphics.

Music is an interesting idea. I wonder how that would work, beyond trying to stick lyrics in scraplines...

Even within the culture of games there's lots to chew on.

One of my favorite game review assignments was for Paradox's Diplomacy, a disappointing translation of a great board game. It would get 300, 500 words max in most places. It was one of those bad games that writers love to make fun of and burn off a 35/100 to keep the Gamerankings average down.

My gracious editor gave me close to a thousand (in print, nonetheless) so I could talk a little about how the design decisions hinted that the developers just didn't get why Diplomacy is a classic board game; how maybe a game that works very well over email with a referee against other humans is simply impossible for a computer - even in MP if you force the humans to communicate with icons.

How many readers bothered with 800 words on a marginal title from a Swedish developer that got 2/5 stars? No idea.

But I felt great while I was writing it.

Troy Goodfellow:

Music is an interesting idea. I wonder how that would work, beyond trying to stick lyrics in scraplines...

I don't know. A review might be able to link songs to gameplay structurally. Think about combo focused fighters. A song has a hook, a chorus, verses and a melody. Usually a combo has a setup and then a repeatable pattern to continue the combo, sometimes indefinitely, sometimes not. Would it be possible to compare character's combos to bands or songs? Or perhaps a boss battle's flow matches the same structure as a pop song? That'd probably be the developer's intention though. It's hard to imagine a developer accidentally patterning a boss battle after Queen's "We are the Champions."

Music could also be used to set a sense of place. Grand Theft Auto does that very well, even if the what is on the radio isn't manipulated to fit the players actions/quests. That's pretty rare though, since most games are firmly rooted in complete fantasy settings and licensing music is expensive. That doesn't mean the score couldn't be used to evoke certain artists or eras. That might contrast with other facets of a game's presentation.

Even within the culture of games there's lots to chew on.

One of my favorite game review assignments was for Paradox's Diplomacy, a disappointing translation of a great board game. It would get 300, 500 words max in most places. It was one of those bad games that writers love to make fun of and burn off a 35/100 to keep the Gamerankings average down.

My gracious editor gave me close to a thousand (in print, nonetheless) so I could talk a little about how the design decisions hinted that the developers just didn't get why Diplomacy is a classic board game; how maybe a game that works very well over email with a referee against other humans is simply impossible for a computer - even in MP if you force the humans to communicate with icons.

How many readers bothered with 800 words on a marginal title from a Swedish developer that got 2/5 stars? No idea.

But I felt great while I was writing it.

To an extent, a person's enjoyment of their work comes through it. I'd like to think that sells itself. It makes for a great anecdote at least.

Definitely a point to take into consideration. The state of mainstream gaming journalism has been bugging me for a while now. Especially when you look at G4, it seems that the genre of video game based journalism often gets distilled into an MTV style fetishization. Often, people get caught up in "whats new and interesting" rather than study what made the older generations unique.

Of course, the Retro movement in gaming takes care of that, but only a little. Its only recently that we've started looking back to older games of the 8, 16, and 32 bit eras and appreciating them in a new light. Services such as "Xbox Live Marketplace" and the Wii's "shop channel" offer younger gamers the opportunity to appreciate the classics of the older generations. Right now, it seems more novelty than actual artistic appreciation, but that could change as Gamer culture moves not into the pop culture mainstream, but into the scholarly mainstream as well.

 

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