You might call me a moderate fan of videogames. I’m really not being facetious either. I’m about half player, half collector. I should hope that this comes across less in what I write than in what I choose to write about. It’s just that there are things I’m more a fan of.
Here’s an example: I enjoy having opinions about things. This is probably the greatest impetus behind unpaid writings of any sort – the desire to share your opinions about things you are interested in.
I have a lot more opinions about music than I do about games. This is probably because I quantifiably like music more than I do games. My collection of vinyl, cassettes, compact discs and 8-tracks outweighs my 600+ console software collection by nearly four multiples. So why aren’t you reading “Insert CD” right now? The reason is, like many things, rather unnerving.
Too much has been written about music for me to have a really meaningful opinion. I cannot just whip something out of the air that will give you a greater appreciation for, let’s say Hella, or the Minibosses. Well, I could probably, but someone else would always do it better, or be better suited to do it.
So here I am, with my paltry 600 game collection, only half of which I’ve played much, and only a third of that half have I beaten – here I am telling you what I think about videogames? Just what gives me the gall to do something like that? What could I have to say that would be meaningful to you?
Tells you something about how immature our industry of game journalism is then, doesn’t it?
Yes, I feel – surmounting the inherent self deprecation that all thoughtful human beings hold dear – that I have something to say about videogames that hasn’t been said before, at least not in just the way that I say it. Those metaphorically under/oversigned to this article feel the same or similarly.
He or she who denies that videogames are trying for something different these days is not listening. And I hope to the high heavens that they’ve taken up some profession outside of the gaming industry. Games are striving to legitimate themselves as art, under the direction of ‘names’ like kojima, naka and Tetsuya Mizuguchi. Hell, even that Denis Dyack character. Even games that do not strive for art have a cultural influence. Even BMXXX makes us think.
Game journalism is not keeping up. Games have a profound influence on youth culture. Pokemon is as deep as you need to get to realize it. Whether these games cause violence or an alarming propensity for sharing is another issue. What’s certain is that children, adults, moms and senators think about videogames.
Major news outlets have picked up on this, and are starting to do legitimate coverage of gaming trends. This is on the web exclusively, mind. Print newsstand journalism is still utter rot.
But this says, if nothing else, that we game journalists are way the god-spitting-hell behind.
Objectivity has got to go, for one thing. Anyone who says that the personal experience of interacting with a game can be discussed objectively – well they’re just flat out wrong to even try. Experience colors everything we write, being humans and all. What we have to do is weigh our desire to share our opinion, the one we’re sure is right, against the fact that no two persons will experience something in the same way.
* * *
The internet, this magical opinion database, was created as an alternative in many ways. Game journalism on the internet is…kind of an alternative to print journalism. We get the news faster, that’s for sure. But is our writing significantly different? I submit that by and large, we’re merely imitating the established trends set out for us by the Game Informers of the world. That’s not bad, if that’s what you want.
But you, friends, should want something more from the writings you read and the readings you write. Doesn’t it sound reasonable that game journalism meet the challenge put forth by the push for artistry and/or cultural influence in games? Sounds about right to me.
The web is just the place to do it too. The voices you read from your screen can come from all over the world – they are not tied to an office location. Our writers and soon-to-be writers span four continents. This is not feasible in a print magazine. Rather than bragging, I’m saying that this is something we should be able to use. We should be using this narrow world of internet connectivity to reach alternate voices.
So we’re failing at print journalism because of the speed issue, and because of convention and format. We’re failing at internet journalism because by and large we lack ambition. I’m not about to say that everything I touch is gold. Or that it introduces a new paradigm, or that it matches the format of the game. But what’s important is that we try. Games deserve discussion equal to their own ambition.
Write about a game set in the 80s as though you were writing it from the 80s. Do this without being trite, and you’re on the track.
It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s a thing that’s worth doing. Games are ever becoming a more powerful cultural weapon. Kids name their dogs flareon and bulbasaur. An idiot breaks into 100 cars in a row. Are they dangerous, these interactive alternate realities? In the hands of imbeciles, anything is.
So there’s knowledge that needs to exist. This knowledge exists for movies and comics and books. There is cultural, social theory involved in their discussion – not on a wide level, but it’s spoken with voices loud enough for you to hear when you need to.
Games do not yet have this, at least not in an organized fashion. Those of us who speak with thought and emotion about games are largely unpaid, and thus can hardly be considered experts on the subject of games by mainstream culture.
So until we get to the point where the likes of Eric-Jon and Jeremy Parish get paid to write the way they write – thus legitimating our own medium of game journalism, we must speak to you from this public and humble platform known as the Free Internet Site.
Thus the feature you now read. The idea began when discussing Blessed Magazine’s ideas about alternative game journalism. Drop the reviews, drop the numbers, drop the news. Just discussion, flat out.
There are merits to being alternative for the sake of the alternative. But mustn’t we also reach the mainstream in order to get our message across? We need that stepping stone, even if that simply means educating the existing writers of the world.
We’re still not reaching people who need to be reached. It’s our voices that the senators need to hear.
And game writing changes games. A poor but thoughtful review means the game maker needs to re-evaluate their position. And sometimes they do. If we could reach a stage where the final ‘gone gold’ games are influenced more by thoughtful previews than by marketing campaigns…it really seems like we might wind up with some better games. Here’s to the nebulous utopian future.
Plus hell – it’s just more fun to read a piece by someone who loves the thing they’re writing about. The first issue of 1-up zine brilliantly introduces a sentimental attachment to games. Jeremy Parish, if he were here, would tell you what it’s like to care so much about games and the way they’re read that he felt as though he could no longer write about them.
Why not introduce genre into game journalism? We've got it everywhere else. Can you imagine I-novel game journalism? Gonzo journalism? I certainly can, and it's damned exciting to think about.
None of this exists in mainstream print. It doesn’t exist in 95% of game writing on the internet. But you deserve it, because you care about games. And because it can be done.
Journalists – show me you care.
brandon sheffield might be a game journalist - so watch yourself
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