Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I'm only 9 years late on this, but...

"There's a tendency among the press to attribute the creation of a game to a single person," says Warren Spector, creator of Thief and Deus Ex.

Seriously, fuck you, IGN.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Moving towards real games journalism

Comic via Penny Arcade.

I think people sometimes get the mistaken impression that "videogame journalism" is nothing more than reviews of games, previews of games, top 10 lists that compare various aspects of games to each other, and so on. In reality, there's much more to being a journalist than just playing a game and doling out an arbitrary score from 1 to 10.

If you read publications in any other area of arts, entertainment or culture, be it Rolling Stone or Entertainment Weekly or The New Yorker, undoubtedly what you'll find are not just articles about films, or CDs or what have you. What you'll find are articles about people. These are usually the most important and most interesting stories in any given magazine. Rolling Stone even has what it calls "The Rolling Stone Interview," detailed profile pieces on notable figures within popular culture.

I point this out because I can not find anything like this within the world of videogame journalism. Yes, there are interviews, but they are almost universally about some new game that's coming out. The interviews in essence turn into free commercials for the game company.

Luckily I'm not alone in identifying this problem. Leigh Alexander, author of the blog Sexy Videogameland, recently posted a piece bemoaning this exact issue. She linked to a New York Times article on M.I.A. and compares that to the state of videogame journalism. She writes,

Let's pretend I was skilled enough a writer to do a piece like Hirschberg's. I couldn't in this business. Because game developers aren't vocal enough about who they are. If they have creative identities (many don't), they don't express them. But even if I could grasp at a couple people who would be nuanced enough "personalities" worth covering -- the Housers, Infinity Ward, Bobby Kotick -- there's no way in hell I could get close enough to them to do a piece like this. The PR machine wouldn't let me.

Essentially, the problem is twofold. Many game companies seal themselves off and only want to talk about their product, and I believe there's a lack of real games journalists who are willing to pursue personalities in the industry. The one notable exception I've come across is the 2005 book Smartbomb: The Quest for Art, Entertainment and Big Bucks in the Videogame Revolution by Heather Chaplin and Aaron Ruby. The book contains candid interviews and profiles with such noted videogame figures like Cliff Bleszinski, Nolan Bushnell and Will Wright. Read it not just because it's a good book, but because it's practically an anomaly in the world of games journalism.

So far, I don't see a real resolution. Alexander notes that games need to be more culturally relevant, and that's certainly true. I think the pursuit of serious games journalism goes hand-in-hand with making serious games. Roger Ebert won the Pulitzer Prize for film criticism, and he was the first person to do so. Can you imagine anyone winning a Pulitzer for writing about games? I sincerely hope that the answer will one day be emphatically yes.