Home » General » Games journalism is broken. Mainly because it’s not all written by automatons.

Games journalism is broken. Mainly because it’s not all written by automatons.

Games journalism is broken. Mainly because it’s not all written by automatons.

I read this article this morning with great interest, just as I tend to do every time anyone pops up with an opinion that games journalism is fundamentally broken. It’s my job, after all, so I’m often interested to see why what I’m doing is so utterly terrible and why every word I write may as well be a passage from a book called “I think Hitler was right and I hate the gays”.

The piece makes some valid points and does raise some genuine issues – especially concerning publishers controlling the flow of information. But I couldn’t concentrate on them because my fury gland was too busy being tickled. You see, it seems that – according to the author – all games coverage is supposed to come under one nice, neat and tidy, catch-all standard. It’s all supposed to be intelligent, deep and thoughtful. Lists are bad. Any talk of anything remotely sexual – heaven forbid the admiration of the male or female form – is utterly forbidden. Everything has to be one hundred per cent serious at all times. There is no room for jokes. Video games are serious business. Homogenise for mass consumption. BZZT. Journo-robot has spoken.

I have a few questions about this stance:

Who gave you the divine right to dictate what it is and what it isn’t we, as individuals, can choose to read? Who gave you the right to decide entire swathes of the gaming public are irrelevant? Don’t deserve to be catered to? Who gave you the right to decide that one method of coverage is preferable over all others? Who said it’s up to you what these sites – which are nothing to do with you – cover?

No one. That’s who.

One thing that really irritated me about the piece, though, was the assertion that too much news is simply re-written press releases. I’m not saying this isn’t true, as a lot of news is press release-based. But a couple of points: one, that’s how a lot of real, actual news works. If this surprises you, your brain would probably melt at the realisation of how much ‘proper’ journalism is based off the back of press releases, especially when it comes to scientific/medical news. Second, how can you complain that too much of the news is effectively the same, coming from press releases as it does, before then going on to claim there’s too much editorialising? Pick one. Please. I’ll still disagree with you, but at least your position won’t seem so wanton in its ridiculousness.

I’m well aware that gaming coverage is all over the place, coverage-wise, but that’s exactly the point – it’s all over the place. Yes, at times it’s not constrained by boundaries of taste, decorum or what some people deem ‘acceptable’. But you know what? I like that fact. I like the fact I can go to Gamasutra and read something intelligent, well-thought out and with depth, then I can come to Play-Mag to read something easily-digestible and irreverent by one of my team mates, then I can go to Kotaku and get annoyed at how much nonsense is on there.

Just because something is done differently to how you want it to be done does not mean it is ‘wrong’. It does not mean it is ‘unacceptable’ or ‘stupid’. Just because a particular section of an audience don’t appreciate what is being written doesn’t mean it’s ‘bad’ writing, and just because another section does doesn’t mean it’s ‘good’.

And for the love of Zombie Jeebus, can you people try to highlight the positives in games journalism for once. If you want to help us grow, improve and become a more coherent, credible form of writing, try praising the coverage you like instead of spitting bile. It’s far too easy to be destructive – challenge yourself to have a good thing to say about something for once.

[image carefully stolen from Laurynomaly, as I have no integrity]

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  • Hapimeses

    Here, here. I agree with the Dransfield. I read the same article this morning and almost choked on my toast. Glad there is a response close to my opinions out there.

    Have a beer, you Hitler-loving gay-hater.

  • Sean

    What a brilliant, thought-provoking article, well said Ian.

  • Axe99

    I wouldn’t say gaming journalism is ‘broken’, and I definitely wouldn’t agree with the implicit imposed standards of the piece being critiqued here, but I follow a few different topics, and gaming journalism has more issues than most (and given the issues mainstream media has, that’s saying something).

    I’d also take issue with the ‘try saying something positive for once’, just after making the point that ‘isn’t it great everyone can say what they want’. Clearly, this author in particular has had a view, and shared it. While most of your article neatly breaks down many of the contentions in the VGChartz article, your last point turns your main argument on its head by suggesting that in response to your point that we should continue to support free speech, that the author should have said something else ;).

    The main reason I’m calling this out is that critical and free reporting is one of the most important elements to good governance of anything. I’d put it ahead of democracy in terms of the importance of a well-governed state (although you need democracy to ensure free speech stays that way). Likewise, gaming journalism needs articles like that, so it can look at itself and say “well, maybe we did need a bit more disclosure on that piece” as well as “fair enough you feel that way, but I beg to differ”.

  • Ian Dransfield

    Fair point, but I think I’ve not made it clear enough – the final par wasn’t a challenge to the writer of the original piece to be more positive, but one to the gaming community as a whole.

    It’s not a command to BE POSITIVE, it’s a request that people try to be. Check something like N4G to see the most popular posts – 95% negativity. I’d just like to see someone championing positivity. If anything it’s encouraging an even wider variety of articles to be written.

    And yes, it is baiting people to shower me with praise for writing such WONDERFUL opinion pieces. Ahem.

  • Axe99

    lol – go you good thing :). I do agree that gaming journalism in general should be more positive. I’ve been gaming since before RTS existed as a genre, and the trend has always tended to be glowing previews and then harsher reviews, with the exception of a few ‘key’ properties which are coated in teflon when it comes to review criticism in general ;).

    I find it particularly ironic these days, when, without a doubt, gaming is the strongest it’s ever been. I see games called out as mediocre or worse that would have been AAA offerings less than a decade ago. Madness! The current GT5 reviews are extraordinary – while there’s plenty of subjective issues involved, the game has the most content and the best driving (and arguably some of the best racing at higher tiers) of any sim-style racer yet released on console. And yet most reviews have a decided negative flavour, which can only be explained by a complete lack of perspective.

    So you’re dead right – being more positive is important, and you should deffo give yourself a pat on the back for raising it :).

  • Ian Dransfield

    But again – don’t get me wrong – I’m all for being a big negative git about things. I am a lot of the time. It’s the balance I’m at least trying to be all about.

    Thanks for your kind words!

  • Red

    I can’t express how happy I am that someone decided to write an article in response to that flagrant N4G flamebait article. I think that if there is one thing that members of the gaming press don’t do enough of, it’s refute some of the hyperbole and/or nonsense spouted off by other members of the press. Of course, that’s just my opinion, and not an assertion that something is broken.

    I think that something people would do well to understand more clearly is that the gaming press is reflection of gamers as a whole. If games journalism seems a bit too tabloidish, or a bit too willing to cater to corporate spiel, it is only because that is what today’s modern gaming masses respond to.

    A generation ago, there were gamers who only purchased the most popular games, and played them off and on until something more popular came along (we all had friends who were like that. Ones that only played GTA, sports games, Halo, etc). Those gamers turned out to be the huge, mostly untapped market that publishers put to the forefront of their marketing strategies with huge success. This “play what’s popular, disregard what isn’t” notion that is now the mainstream gaming norm is a much bigger market than the core “play anything that’s fun, play anything you can afford to” gaming type. This new brand of “hardcore” gamer, one that barely cared about gaming when every other game released was a JRPG, is the one who’s doing the most clicking, and you’d be messed in the head to think these people want anything more than the status quo and heavy speculation/rumors.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with gaming journalism, the gaming press is only responding to what gamers want. If anything, you can call the new mainstream gamer, one who scans through tens of tidbits only to click on a clear flamebait piece, the ones who are broken.

  • Blue

    maybe its a very scary thought, but the peol
    ple who you consider only playing popular games, might play those cause they r most fun to them.

    If it wasn’t fun, how could a game be popular. Maybe you played games cause they were popular, but I sure do know i didnt play Red Alert 2 for months, just cause it was popular.
    (i miss u westwood:( )

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  • Tangerine

    The problem is you guys cannot take criticism. AT ALL. You deflect it and personally attack back.

  • Red

    @Blue: Maybe, but that’s an awfully altruistic way of looking at it. Publishers would not spend more on advertising than anything outside of development if it were not possible to make something far more popular than it’s quality would dictate. The whole point of advertising is making anything sell regardless of quality.

    Besides, I didn’t insinuate that popular games were not fun, only that they were popular. My point is that everything that wasn’t considered popular was abandoned when the mainstream market exploded, mostly because that explosion priced many niches right out of the market. The focus became the gamer that could be convinced to buy a game the same way someone is convinced to buy a soda, as opposed to releasing a game and waiting for its quality to become well known in the community. The niches we no longer have for the most part were equally as fun as the popular games, the only reason they didn’t sell was because they did not cater to as many flavors as possible. The whole “broadening the market” ideal that publishers love to talk about killed off as many fun games as it did crummy ones.

    In the end, it is not about what is fun and what isn’t, only about what sells and what doesn’t. They’re 2 different arguments that have little to do with eachother. The argument I’m making is that publishers only want to release the kind of fun that falls on the lowest common denominator, to maximize sales.

    Hahaha, also, most of today’s mainstream doesn’t have a clue what Red Alert 2 is, nor would they play it if they did. Great game.

  • Ian Dransfield


    There’s criticism then there’s personal attacks, and what comes from a great deal of commenters is absolutely the latter. I think it’s more than fair for people to defend themselves in those circumstances. Other than that, please feel free to name times I personally have ‘attacked’ those who have offered criticism. Five examples would suit me perfectly.

    And you must understand that games writers are just people. People who will respond differently to things, who will over-react or not react at all. They are not one amorphous blob, made up of one personality, one opinion and one mindset. They are people.

  • Brice S.

    Oh, wow. Rage much? “This person complains about certain aspects of my profession, so I shall take great personal offense and write this completely ridiculous blog rant to address this injustice! A move so unprofessional and immature that I’m proving said article right!”

    The point that article is making is that game journalism needs to grow up and needs more professionalism. That means stop the Top 10 lists, stop the “Here’s some half naked chick from a videogame!” screenshots, stop the “So-and-so thinks Product X sucks!” bullshit headlines. Be . . . what’s it called again? Oh yeah. PROFESSIONAL. If you don’t do any of this, then congratulations. You’re not the target of this article’s ire. There’s a reason sites like Kotaku and D’toid were selected when making his point. They’re not game journalists. They’re glorified bloggers.

    That’s not to say that good isn’t out there. Despite all the valid points that article made, none of it matters to sites like GameIndustry.biz or Gamasutra which make none of these mistakes. But the main channels representing our industry–Kotaku, Joystiq, D’toid, GameSpot, GameTrailers, and IGN–are still obsessing over tits, throwing up pointless lists (so many that Kotaku manages to post a list of lists EVERY WEEK) and posting bias and inflammatory content. This level of “professionalism” is completely unacceptable.

  • Ian Dransfield

    Incredible. Your comment has brightened my day no end.

  • koppert79

    I am a gamer. since being ill it is now my main hobby. I read play because it gives accurate, entertaining and truthful opinion which I base 90% of purchasing confidence on and as of yet I have never been disappointed (the other 10% is simply being a loyal buyer of a franchise or price). I think that the mainstream media is opposed to the games industry and its media as its an area that is virtually alone, that speaks for itself and that they cant get a slice of. Its not a Rupert Murdoch empire and its taking away from their forms of media so they see it as a threat. This is how they try and fight back

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