Sunday, 20 November 2011

War For The Future Of Games Journalism

Video game journalism is the reporting and discussion of video games, typically based on a core reveal/ preview/ review cycle. A recent growth in online publications i.e., blogs, has seen the rise of 'new games journalism', and the encroaching nature of the internet on video game magazines have the men at the top, 'the money-men' worried. I can see why they are worried. Video games magazines have become primarily buying guides, offering information about forthcoming games or definitive reviews. Magazines also operate as a filter, enabling the reader to keep track of what's actually worthwhile knowing in gaming. One of the more obvious reasons why people turn to magazines, although debatable in may peoples eyes, is they are 'often' of a much higher quality, better written. At the end of the day people are paid to write these articles, so they should be better, but there is an underlying flaw, game journalism is a job, and at the end of the day I fear that, that is how many writers see it as, 'just a job'. Some might say that the writers can't be blamed for feeling that way, fundamentally the -money-men' control what is being written. Most games magazines are systematically structured to guide the reader through to purchasing a game. Almost universally the layout goes; news, previews, reviews, a linear, clearly signposted pathway to the shop counter. Because there's not a whole lot of room here for reflective or in-depth analysis, the reviews don’t seem to serve their basic consumer informing purpose and are, nine times out of ten, worse than useless. Although some blame can be directed at the consumer.

As I mentioned, most readers only seem to view magazines as buying guides and little else, they only want to know what they'll be able to buy in the future, and what's worth buying now. This consumer 'zombie-ness' is hardly unique, most publications based around consumer activity work in the same way, including movie and music magazines. Part of the challenge then is to persuade readers that a lengthy contemplative piece based on a game released years ago isn't just a waste of space. The fundamental question is – do readers actually want it? Some magazines have had worthy attempts, including Edge magazine, the problem is that these publications are aimed at hardcore gamers. The net can provide all of these things, reviews can often be found in existence together with an average score , and retrospective articles, mostly in the form of blogs, can be found for the hardcore who bother to look for them. What video games magazines really should be able to do is exploit the conversational buzz that surrounds top, mass market video games for months after release. The problem I find most unbearable with the 'universal' review, is the number that sits at the bottom, (?/10), which suggests something objectively quantifiable. Opinions on games, and again on movies and music, ARE NOT objectively quantifiable, unless a reviewer approaches their review in an objective manner. And, by doing so leaves us with the bland, uniform evaluation of said shiny consumer items, which are after all, forms of entertainment, and as such are set to be viewed differently by different people.

But how can magazines change this? Magazine writers rarely get more than a few days with a game, which is hardly enough time to get past the first few levels let alone truly explore the parameters of the experience on offer, and, most reviews are usually written weeks before a game is released which makes reviewing the multi-player modes redundant.

I feel it's in the magazines interest to show the readers what they're missing, to explore and involve themselves with gaming communities and to revel in gaming experiences that only become accessible after months of play. There is a wealth of material out there.

New games journalism? At the moment its an interesting idea, perpetrated by a handful of talented and passionate writers. I'm finishing the blog by leaving you with an article from one of these talented writers, titled 'Bow, Nigger'. A intimate account of a game that the writer knows well, and which a community has grown with it's own emergent rules and traditions. Its a memorable piece of writing in many ways, but its notable for reading like games journalism, without being like any other piece of games writing you've ever read.

New games journalism argues that the worth of a video game lies not in the game, but in the gamer.

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