why [video game] journalism sucks in ’08

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Journalism, as it was once said to me, is ‘research without the application of theory’.

The reasons for this are varied but often quite simple. Most journalism does not intend to inform, it intends to sell. Either selling itself (primarily the platform its delivered on) be it a website, a radio or station or a magazine. Alternatively it is selling the product or service it considers. Even news journalism is selling itself, it’s author and the station/channel that broadcasts it. All of this is fine, until you start to look for substance or explanations to a specific problem. The problem may be benign or earth shattering. Journalism isn’t going to help you either way. Think of a subject and Google it. Then look at the top 20 news stories about the topic you chose.

Notice anything? After reading the third article you will notice a pattern. All the articles start to feel familar, the same facts crop up over and over again, the same insights are re-worded (but not always) and by the time you reach article five or six you can predict whats coming next. Even the pithy sign-offs start to homognise. Why is it that (supposedly) intelligent people are all conforming to a silent form of critical myopia?

The reason is the mechanism of critical (review) journalism. Every product has a time line. A release date. An impact week. The review process is ingrained, in-built and in-bred. A review is irrelevant after the fact. It is needed to build the hype, create profile and drive footfall. The music industry is built on this house of cards that has been in place for decades.

Everything is plugged. A whole industry exists to sweet talk and influence radio programmers, magazine editors and review jounalists. A hierachy exists, that means an artist will pass from one hoop to the next dependent on ‘the plot’. Imagine snakes and ladders but with twice the amount of snakes. This system still cannot deal with the shortfall in sales and results in a swirling maelstrom of critical media under siege and chasing its tail.

Are the journalists themselves to blame? Yes.

I met a well respected video games journalist very recently. He writes for the broadsheets with a bit of ‘lifestyle’ thrown in. I asked him what his favourite games of 2008 were. He paused for a (respectable) moment then proceeded to espouse the key (personal) moments of Fallout 3 that really moved him. The thing was, they were the self same points that had appeared in every review I had read of the game. He was like a human Metacritic distilling the ideas of others into a ‘cocktail party’ conversational snippet. I looked into his eyes, they were moving furtively around the room. I clearly wasn’t engaging enough for him. I wasn’t to be defeated.

I asked him about Little Big Planet. Again he paused. 17 seconds later [I know … I was counting] he gave me his opinion. Guess what? Yep you got it. I felt like pulling him apart to see if there were a little team just like the Numskulls inside him who were pulling levers. One department was responsible for reading press releases. Another was in charge of metaphors and cliche. The intelligence department was working part time. At that point he became animated, and for a moment I was excited … he leant across to me and nudged me … I looked over my left shoulder as he was straining to get at the wagyu beef canapes. As he leant back, two beers in hand, he smiled and crumbs fell from the corners of his mouth.

“You should read … tomorrow” he told me. “A couple of my pieces are in there, you’ll like it”. The following day I read his 30-40 words on that weeks Activision releases. I will say one thing in his favour, his ability to edit press releases is not in question.

So is the blogosphere the answer to failings of ‘traditional’  journalism?. In short, Yes and No. There are sites I love like Giant Bomb but they are few and far between. The same principles have been carried across to blogging that infected print media, timelines, impact weeks and the desire to be the first to cover something. Anything.

Home taping killed music. Lazy journalism will kill everything else.

home_taping_is_killing_music

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One thought on “why [video game] journalism sucks in ’08

  1. Excellent EXCELLENT article. This is the probelm with todays game journalism. It’s nothing more than sensationalism or being snarky and negative to seek attention {Kotaku, Joystiq, and Zero Punctuation comes to mind} considering the fact that’s what gets the most hits. They don’t research, asking questions, or dow follow ups. Sometimes they’re so lazy that they copy and paste other people’s stuff which is appualling. Even the gaming community is a lot like most game journalists, snarky attention seekers. Video Game Journalism is the equivalent of National Enquirer.

    You mentioned Giantbomb.com and yes that is a great website but don’t worry I know two great websites that do actual game journalism. Gamedaily.com and Gamesutra.com are two great video game websites you must check out. Electric Playground used to be a great TV show on game journalism but now that show is only on air in Canada.

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