You Say You Want A Revolution

I hear a lot of people say that they want a change, a new direction, a revolution.  They want it not only in video games, but in the very media that covers gaming.  They say all the good sources have sold out, that the major outlets are bought and paid for by game publishers, and that the prêt-a-porte media is rife with corporate tit for tat.  To hear the average gamer speak, most of the coverage today, be it print, televised, or online is a tattered weave of journalistically legitimized hype and clichéd platitudes.  Essentially, it is said that gaming journalism needs a serious change.  This is, of course, all well and good, but lacking a bit in the specificity department.  In short, gamers say they want something different, but arenÂ't widely forthcoming with a consensus for what that change should be or even what the problem is to begin with.

Now, IÂ'm well aware that IÂ've invoked taboo terminology there, or at least a practically speaking ambiguous one: journalism.  When I, as a web writer, blaspheme the name of journalism by associating it with the internet I risk suffering the wrath of those who seek, with some credible complaint, to sanctify the profession and to distance it from the vast majority of independent online media.  And yet, those who would be quick to judge the online journalist as being a virtual oxymoron, are often in the same breath criticizing, for lack of a better term, legitimate gaming journalists.  Those with the access, the contacts, the resources, and ultimately the advertising dollars to legitimize their journalistic claims are slammed for being beholden to the companies and products they cover, while the independent online writers are discounted as lacking professionalism, research, and credentials.  It seems no one is getting it right.

But, since the problem seems to pervade both professional and amateur outlets, and complaints are being levied by the same sets of readers, then letÂ's not split hairs as to the issue of journalistic legitimacy.  When I say journalist and media, IÂ'm obviously not talking about the kind of site that canÂ't manage any sort of grammatical competency or original thought.  IÂ'm speaking only of relevant sites that can contribute some degree of literate discourse, be it flawed or otherwise.  But for those sites, and it could be seen as self serving, IÂ'm sticking with my WebsterÂ's New Universal Unabridged definition of journalism: Â"the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting newsÂ"…Â"Ã‚  So when I talk about the desire for change in gaming journalism, I speak all at once of print, online, high profile, advertising based, enthusiast, and the myriad of other media permutations.   Like I said, to hear most people talk, it seems no one is getting it right.

When it comes right down to it, what it seems readers want is the resource and access of a professional outlet with the balls-to-the-wall individuality of an enthusiast source.  They want a group of Â"˜regular gamersÂ' to be given the same access as a PC Gamer, or Gamespot.  They want an objective outlet that shares its readerÂ's sensibilities; one that can walk out of a behind closed doors showing of Ultra MegaHype Seven and objectively state, in no uncertain terms, that itÂ's shaping up to be total crap.  And when, instead, the Â"˜legitimateÂ' news comes from behind those closed doors with a preview that reads like the gameÂ's advertisement, already resting conspicuously on the very next page, readers instantly wonder what became of the precious legitimacy.  They realize that they practically never read an objectively negative preview, nor even one that seems to address legitimate concerns that, on looking back from the review, should have been absolutely obvious.  Simply, readers want to believe in what they are reading.

The average age of a gamer is pushing thirty these days, and on top of questions of validity are issues of maturity and sophistication.  Too often the gaming media is far more interested in the stereotype of what a gamer is supposed to be than what a gamer actually is.  ItÂ's as though gaming media (and, in this case, particularly online outlets) has never quite escaped its pubescent years, splaying bawdy polygon curves across every screenshot, and titillating itself with new, rarely clever, forms of vulgarities.  And, without question, when done smartly there is a time and place for such, but for the most part gaming journalism is sophomoric at best, and too often embarrassing.  Gamers are not what they appear to be, they are married, they are varied in their professions, they participate in society, are outgoing, employed, and far smarter than most of the gaming press treats them.

ThatÂ's not to say that we donÂ't like an occasional dose of sophomoric humor, but what seems to have been lost of late is the creativity and genuine humor in that venue.  A site like Penny-Arcade which explores entirely new realms of creative vulgarity is successful because it is at the same time smart, creative, and matched to the sensibilities of its readers.  Unfortunately, they are unusual in that respect.

So within these two levied complaints, I think we have a shared thread that can be applied to all of gaming media, and I think itÂ's what gamers most want to see changed.  The one basic issue, it seems, that gamers take with their press is that gaming journalism vastly underestimates its audience.  They underestimate our maturity, our sophistication, our engagement in society, and our savvy.  We are treated to clichés, platitudes, and a demographic focused style that takes the gamer cliché for granted.  We rarely are treated to thoughtful commentary or meaningful discussions, instead swamped under corporate sanctioned previews, inane literature, irresponsible hyperbole, and provocative images.  It is more a sideshow than anything else, all flashing neon and rambling barkers hiding a perverse lack of depth. 

Naturally, IÂ'm not suggesting that every outlet is guilty – there are obvious sources both reputable and intelligent - though I would contend that the plurality of gaming focused markets at the very least trend this direction.  And, I think the reason for this is that the gaming press has not kept up with the changing face of gaming itself.  As gamers have matured the media has failed to keep up, not apparently realizing that the average gamer has a career, a mortgage, and often a family.  This doesnÂ't mean that gaming media needs to evolve into a bland boring equivalent of the Wall Street Journal, but that its audience is certainly more discerning and conscious than they seem to realize.

Gaming media, and then video games themselves, need a revolution, and that revolution is the discovery of the adult gamer.  The gaming industry needs to realize their core audience is not in the vocal minority of immaturity that pervades too many internet message boards, and that such a resulting attitude is as much a function of how gamers are treated as who we really are.  Maturity does not mean getting rid of being light, funny, and irreverent, but raising the bar on that irreverence and demanding creativity.  It means giving gamers more options for media that steps outside the parroting of corporate feature sheets, and demanding smarter writing, discussion, and themes.  It doesnÂ't mean getting rid of what works now, but what doesnÂ't and replacing it with something far better.

- Elysium

Comments

Well said. The following might be interesting to people.

The NUJ's [National Union of Journalist's] Code of Conduct has set out the main principles of British and Irish journalism since 1936. It is part of the rules and all journalists joining the union must sign that they will strive to adhere to it.

1. A journalist has a duty to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards.

2. A journalist shall at all times defend the principle of the freedom of the press and other media in relation to the collection of information and the expression of comment and criticism. He/she shall strive to eliminate distortion, news suppression and censorship.

3. A journalist shall strive to ensure that the information he/she disseminates is fair and accurate, avoid the expression of comment and conjecture as established fact and falsification by distortion, selection or misrepresentation.

4. A journalist shall rectify promptly any harmful inaccuracies, ensure that correction and apologies receive due prominence and afford the right of reply to persons criticised when the issue is of sufficient importance.

5. A journalist shall obtain information, photographs and illustrations only by straightforward means. The use of other means can be justified only by overriding considerations of the public interest. The journalist is entitled to exercise a personal conscientious objection to the use of such means.

6. A journalist shall do nothing which entails intrusion into anybody's private life, grief or distress, subject to justification by overriding considerations of the public interest.

7. A journalist shall protect confidential sources of information.

8. A journalist shall not accept bribes nor shall he/she allow other inducements to influence the performance of his/her professional duties.

9. A journalist shall not lend himself/herself to the distortion or suppression of the truth because of advertising or other considerations.

10. A journalist shall mention a person's age, sex, race, colour, creed, illegitimacy, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation only if this information is strictly relevant. A journalist shall neither originate nor process material which encourages discrimination, ridicule, prejudice or hatred on any of the above-mentioned grounds.

11. No journalist shall knowingly cause or allow the publication or broadcast of a photograph that has been manipulated unless that photograph is clearly labelled as such. Manipulation does not include normal dodging, burning, colour balancing, spotting, contrast adjustment, cropping and obvious masking for legal or safety reasons.

12. A journalist shall not take private advantage of information gained in the course of his/her duties before the information is public knowledge.

13. A journalist shall not by way of statement, voice or appearance endorse by advertisement any commercial product or service save for the promotion of his/her own work or of the medium by which he/she is employed.

Does the BBC know this exists?

They might be aware of Gamers With Jobs.

The BBC has had some rough times recently. However I still think it's about as a reliable news mainstream news source as one can get these days.

Well written and more importantly, well thought out. Of course, with a beard like that, we should expect nothing less than Socratic thought.

Simply, readers want to believe in what they are reading.

It never fails to amaze me when I spy a copy of Team Xbox or whatever obviously 'bought and sold' system specific magazine has a flashy front cover boasting of a review of it's best game ever and there's a person reading through it, nodding intently. I always wonder what is going through that person's head. Probably the same thing that goes through my head every time I go searching for a review that totally coincides with what I expect to get from the game. I want to believe that Half Life 2 will not only be the greatest game of the year but that it will also satisfy me on a deeper level, as PC Gamer says it will.
I want to hear how Halo 2 will give me a nice back rub and tell me how good I am at playing it. I do indeed want to believe what I'm reading.

Well put Elysium. This column is one of top 5 favorites on the web.

I think this one is great and I hope it "gets out there".
The maturity factor is the reason I joined up with you guys.

I'm 33, a software developer, married with two kids, and swing a mortgage.

I don't look a damn thing like that pierced, skateboard riding, mo-hawked idiot I see in aids all the time.

No offense to pierced skateboarding mo-hawked idiots intended.

So is the manifesto that you'll build your magazine on?

Charlie Kane did the same thing

Rosebud (or is Bobo more appropriate?)

The New Games Journalism, former PC Gamer UK writer Kieron Gillen's manifesto-ish musings might be of some interest.

He gets rather longwinded, but do scroll down to the yellow text that says "Bow, Nigger" and go all clicky on its ass, at the very least. Because that's a truly excellent piece of writing.

He gets rather longwinded, but do scroll down to the yellow text that says "Bow, Nigger" and go all clicky on its ass

That was good. Admittedly it would be hard not to root for him and thus become involved - but it was well written.

Ridlin wrote:

I'm 33, a software developer, married with two kids, and swing a mortgage.

I don't look a damn thing like that pierced, skateboard riding, mo-hawked idiot I see in aids all the time.

That's right, instead of "Do the Dew", guys like us "Do the Poo".

[edit]Wait, just for the record, I'm talking about changing diapers .

hubbinsd wrote:

[edit]Wait, just for the record, I'm talking about changing diapers .

Hey, speaking of that, is it normal to find practically pristine pieces of food in baby poop? My girl had pork chop cubes for dinner last night, and damned if there wasn't little pork chop cubes in her poop today.

Oh wait, is that OT?

The idea that any human being can give an unbiased review of anything is a fallacy. Our preferences are shaped by our experiences and our personalities, no two of which are exactly the same.

In the world of gaming "jounalism," it's naive to believe that some guy at GameSpy can write an unbiased review after spending several hours chatting with the devs, touring their company, and receiving tons of free swag. By the same token, some guy in Nebraska writing a review for his small website may have subconscious (or not so subconscious) negative feelings about a game because nobody at Company X took the time to reply to his queries about the game. Or maybe he is just having a bad day.

That's why I try to read 3 or 4 reviews from different sources before buying a game. The common threads that run through all the reviews can be taken as pretty reliable, while the rest is probably personal opinion that may or may not jive with my own.

Hey, speaking of that, is it normal to find practically pristine pieces of food in baby poop?

I take it you've never found corn niblets in your crap.

Personally what annoys me is not the lack of focus on my particular demographic nor the being talked down to as if I have the intellect of a particularly dim Sparrow, those things I can personally forgive in a general public magazine.
What I demand is a "just the facts m'am" style of impartial and non market filtered journalism, the reporting of news, upcoming events, facts and editorial impressions without recourse to vain radio DJ like self congratulation or being exposed to what passes for other people's sense of humour which makes up 70% of a previews I read sometimes.
I want to be treated like a customer who needs better information about current and future products, I play games to be entertained I don't read magazines to be wowed by the author's lexicon and erudition (Elysium accepted of course).
I can understand that journalism is a career and as such networking, schmoosing and one-up-man ship is necessary in some circles to achieve a reputation, but so is the admiration of your readers for some degree of impartiallity and trustworthiness.

Course this is just a pipe dream and the only real way of ever distilling all the news thats fit to read is to peruse News sites like VE or Blues, read the reviews on Gamerankings and drop into community forums. This is a fun and useful arrangement for those of us with time, but it would be ever so nice to have someone useful do it for us.

What we need is a test, Gentlemen. A test of video games journalism skill. I propose this: http://www.klov.com/game_detail.php?game_id=10244

I play games to be entertained I don't read magazines to be wowed by the author's lexicon and erudition (Elysium accepted of course).

Don't spare me from a legitimate complaint. I never want to be nothing more than someone showing off vocabulary without entertainment value. If I'm ever doing that, I need to know about it.

You be fine Elysium You be fine.

You actually convey something of worth when you write, and not just treat polysyllabic words like intrinsic goldleaf.

Congrats on a well written article. I think a common thread here is that people want good, solid reviews of games as well as thought provoking and/or entertaining commentary on topics related to the gaming industry and community.

Personally, I just want a "Consumer Reports" style approach to game reviewing. Just tell me the idea of the game and is it worth the time and money? How does it perform against others in the same genre? That's all I want out of the review.

Somebody has to ask...
Wheres our WoW update?

Oh and good job on the article

This article rings very true to how I feel.

Whenever I read a game review from some site, I quickly scan it for word and phrases like mixed bag, (stereotype-wielding brainless reviewer), models, textures, maps (way to kill any suspension of disbelief, bucko), or a prolonged intro to the game's epic storyline which takes 50% of the review.

Then, I look for any concrete description which gives me an idea what the actual game is like, from a point of view of a human being. If there's no such thing, I don't bother reading the review in detail.

Wow. That was an excellent article.
I work in the media industry -- I was a reporter for 3 years and I currently work as an editor at a wire service. I've long been disappointed by gaming journalism; I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head Elysium.
I think for the most part, games journalists are in a bit of a bind, at least from my perspective. They need to have a good relationship with a developer in order to score things like previews, review copies of games etc. So I imagine there's some pressure not to write negative reviews...
I guess that's why I still subscribe to PC Gamer and CGW. Yeah, their reviews are usually published weeks if not months after the online guys. But I know the advertising and editorial departments at those companies are separate entities. The reviews are usually quality as well....except for their BF:V reviews. I think both mags failed to point out some significant flaws with that game, but that's another topic...
Anyway, well done. Bravo, Here, Here. Can I get an Amen? Etc. etc.

1Dgaf wrote:
Hey, speaking of that, is it normal to find practically pristine pieces of food in baby poop?

I take it you've never found corn niblets in your crap.

Folks, it is a new record!! From erudite discussions of the nature of journalism to corn-in-your-poop in only two steps!! I take credit for that, thank you very much.

Well written indeed. I think what draws people to this web site is that it possesses much of the "revolutionary content" you write about. I think that as "Gamers" age/mature (not always 2 things that go hand in hand) and the demographic grows and flexes it's collective muscle (this web site is a great example) then the media which covers "our hobby" will also restructure itself. Just my thoughts.

Oh and hubbinsd - perfectly normal

shihonage wrote:

Whenever I read a game review from some site, I quickly scan it for word and phrases like mixed bag, (stereotype-wielding brainless reviewer)....

The Economist magazine has a style guide that lists George Orwell's 'six elementary rules [of writing]':

i. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

iii. If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out.

iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

One magazine editor I know of had his *rent* paid by a publisher in exchange for favourable coverage.

http://spong.com/en/html/forum/viewThread.jsp?message=2121

8. A journalist shall not accept bribes nor shall he/she allow other inducements to influence the performance of his/her professional duties.

Great article, as usual.

Stupendous thoughts, well-crafted. May I be the first to suggest an outright ban on the word erudite(and any and all of it's various forms) from being used for....oh at least 2 months or 200 posts..whichever comes first. Thx. ( And yes, post-traumatic-EQ-itis as well as a disdane for "the media" having a habit of overusing certain new and wonderful terms encouraged this.)

Well written article.

The only point I would question is it's basic premise- that the average gamer is approaching 30. While there is surely a widening of the demographic "gamer" (I'm 40 for crying out loud) based on my experience the average age of the shopper at the PC games section of the average "big box" retailer, (never mind the console section) is mid to late teens. There are a few older guys standing around but always a minority.

My 3 nephews, ages 5-15 have 1 or 2 consoles in each of their bedrooms, with 20-30 games each. While I'm a bit older than the average gamer portrayed in your article, I'm the only adult I know who even owns a video game. (One reason I greatly enjoy this site, having only discovered it a week or so ago.)

There is no doubt a niche here waiting to be exploited i.e., game reviews (journalism as described by Orwell or the Economist may be a bit grandiose) and reporting
for grown-ups, in the style of Consumer Reports.

However, given the explosive growth of the video game market, console in particular, I believe that the main stream publishers have done their market research well and carefully. Kids buy their product. They are in a symbiotic relationship with the gaming companies, as is any product/lifestyle enthusiast magazine.

Dour headlines don't move product, be it games or magazines about games.

Oh, by the way, if you want to see intact food in diapers feed your child grapes.

Just my pair of pennies.

Lars