New game journalism, but not New Game Journalism

New game journalism, but not New Game Journalism

Yesterday, Chris Buffa of GameDaily sounded off in an editorial titled "Why Videogame Journalism Sucks." I can't help but agree with the sentiment, but Buffa, despite a thousand words of evangelizing, doesn't quite get it.

Buffa contends that game journalism suffers from amateurish writing; a lack of testicular fortitude in all but the staunchest of journalists; writers with a lack of talented, identifiable voices; and an over-reliance on PR representatives to provide material worth reporting. All true. Take a snapshot of the industry, and you'll see people all over forgetting to put the punctuation inside the quotation marks, cuddling up to their favorite developers and taking press releases as Gospel. You don't need a journalism degree (something Buffa repeatedly harps on) to understand these problems; you just need eyes.

The thing is, while Buffa's right on all counts, his substantiation is terribly flawed.

I agree with most of the points of Buffa's article as well, however before Ivan Sulic becomes the industry whipping boy it should be noted that sites like IGN, GameSpy, and GameSpot ENCOURAGE ridiculously long reviews. I've probably edited thousands of descriptions and reviews by this point and no way would those two paragraphs been accepted by me. This is because I know that quantity doesn't equal quality for game reviews. When a writer is told that he has to come up with so many words for a review then his imagination is going to run a bit rampant and go off on tangents. It's an editor's job to reign in any non-sequitors and stick to the topic at hand. But why have one page featuring a concise, well-written 500 word review when you can simply have your writer ramble for two (sometimes three) web pages. Ah yes, gotta pay the bills with those banner ads. Is that the only problem with game journalism? Nope. But as long as the higher-ups of those companies are telling the writers to filibuster then you are going to get writing that has nothing to do with the game. Editors need to realize that their job is to worry more about knowing the difference between its and it's.

-Chris Cavanaugh

Eurogamer's pretty good.

I think beyond the terrible writing and the fanboy mentality of many video game "journalists" is the inherent difference in the medium. Movies and music are largely passive experiences. They draw you in with storyline, complex characters, or even simple action. Music relies on melody, beat and the poetry of lyric. Much of this is missing in video games. While players can and do experience emotional attachment to characters and events in game, these emotions are far more subjective than the ones that come from other media.

Another issue is the fact that only now are schools, colleges and institutions beginning to take the medium seriously. High Schools and colleges have offered courses on Cinema history and criticism for many years. Very few have yet to do so with video games, partly because finding a way to do so is so difficult. I hope that as the field develops that a proper methodololgy for critique will emerge. One that goes beyond looking at graphics, sound, and replay value. It is past time that reviewers look past these superficial aspects of games and explore the deeper issues. Such as, Designer goals, how well they might be implemented. The general philosophy behind the design, the emotional responses intended and the ones reviewers experience, etc. etc. Of course this will require much more foot work on the part of journalists but hey isn't that what journalism is?

Buffa mentioned Ebert. As he said whether you love or hate him. Ebert does much more than just describe the movies. He attempts to discover the underlying themes and currents in the film and then he critiques how well the director, producer and actors are able to pull it off. Exploring aspects of the film as varied as the director's style, editing, acting ability, dialogue, etc. etc. I hope that one day we to can come to expect this from our own journalists...

I sort of feel like the guy who mentions the emperor is naked -- maybe you all realize this already -- but the article is a self-reflexive joke. There is no other explanation for it containing at least one example of every single writing fault about which it complains.

Of course, the article does raise some very interesting points, worthy of thoughtful discussion, but I don't feel like these can be discussed seriously without first acknowledging that the whole piece is a parody.

The fact that so many "game journalists" are taking it at face value, so they can discuss their PR firm conspiracy theories (instead of discussing writing quality, or the games themselves) is the most eloquent proof that every complaint the author makes about game journalism is absolutely true.

While you may be right, Kevin, I don't think the fact that the author of the piece being discussed was "playing a joke" invalidates any part of the ensuing discussion. If for no other reason than that this discussion had been going on for some time before Mr. Boffa penned his article, which you allege to be parody. His was, in fact, only a minor addition to the debate, parody or no.

The Buffa article was a relentless - and therefore boring - tirade of negativity, prompting the suggestion some PR bint had ticked him off that morning. Still, it was fairly-well written, which is clearly the most important thing to him (although it could easily have been half the length).

Hmm, a joke? On who? That's the question ;)

Indeed, interesting and intelligent discussion has ensued, and I am not dismissing it as meaningless. Yet is seems to me that any ensuing discussion about poor journalism that is oblivious to the fact that the article itself is a cleverly manufactured example of poor journalism misses the author's main point and makes it at the same time.

Did we all miss the use of cliché to complain about cliché? How many read the complaint about run-on sentences but did not notice the run-on sentence in the first paragraph? The derision of sophomoric humor, personal perspective, and childish taunting, in an article that uses sex jokes, E3 experiences, and overly aggressive name-calling? Yes, I allege parody.

I "may be right?" If we harbor any question at all whether or not I am right, we're already demonstrating the essay's most dire contention: Game journalism sucks because readers don't demand better, and readers don't demand better because they can't tell the difference.

If that's parody, frankly, I demand better.

Phillip Scuderi:
If that's parody, frankly, I demand better.

Which, I think, was Joe's point about the piece as commentary as well.

Perhaps I just didn't give credit where it was due, but what you took as parody, I took as hypocrisy.

I wasn't giving it proper credit at first either. I had to read it three times before I even got a hint, and it wasn't until I methodically started looking for examples of all the journalistic offenses mentioned, and found at least one of each, that I was convinced. It's just too perfect not to be on purpose.

I'm sorry to come in here like some noob troll, and to come off as insulting to all you good people, but once I got beyond the offensive nature of the article and realized what the author was doing, I thought it was truly brilliant. That fact that I fell for it at first only adds to my respect for it in the end.

I don't think anyone here feels offended, Kev. I don't, anyway. The facts are that you have a theory and it's an interesting one. But it is just a theory.

Chris and Joe have been talking about this and I'm sure if parody was his intention, we'll find out soon enough. Stay tuned.

Regardless of it was parody or not. The points he Bufffa mentioned are still valid. Whether Buffa meant to poke fun at the industry itself or it's critics is beside the point I think. So Buffa has written a sublte piece of satire. Does that make his argument useless? When Jon Stewert, Stephen Colbert, or any other political comedian pokes fun or raises valid points about current news, does that make it insignificant simply because it was satire? On the contrary! I feel that satire itself as a vehicle of expression gives more credence and importance to the topics it lampoons, simply beacuse it often points to the 300 pd. gorilla in the room that everyone seems so desperatly trying to ignore...

falselogic:
Regardless of it was parody or not. The points he Bufffa mentioned are still valid. Whether Buffa meant to poke fun at the industry itself or it's critics is beside the point I think. So Buffa has written a sublte piece of satire. Does that make his argument useless? When Jon Stewert, Stephen Colbert, or any other political comedian pokes fun or raises valid points about current news, does that make it insignificant simply because it was satire? On the contrary! I feel that satire itself as a vehicle of expression gives more credence and importance to the topics it lampoons, simply beacuse it often points to the 300 pd. gorilla in the room that everyone seems so desperatly trying to ignore...

Maybe, but there's more to the argument than whether games 'journos' have been to university or not - which seems to be the most prominent bugbear in the article. Here's the truth: Games writers are paid peanuts. Most are in it 'for the love of it.' That's it. There really is no other argument. Man cannot live on games alone, which is why the good people end up PRing games, or turning to other subjects. Games are a business, jounalism is a job - both require funding. There are more 'qualified' journalists in this induatry than ever, yet wages are half what they were 10 years ago. Like everything else, it's a question of economics.

- Z

Staying tuned...

Meanwhile, Chris Buffa has posted a follow-up: "How to Fix Videogame Journalism." I found the differences in the style, content, and grammatical accuracy of the two pieces to support my "theory." In fact, I took the second article as a "fixed" version of the first (which I maintain "sucked").

But that's just me, and this is just fine. Sometimes, some folks prefer to wait for someone else to tell them "the truth," and that's totally cool, too.

I feel pwned.

There's also another follow-up, with reader reaction to this article: http://biz.gamedaily.com/industry/feature/?id=13393

 

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