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You may be aware that the GWJ front page doesn’t run a lot of reviews. This has been the case since about the time I first registered an account here, and I tend to think that it’s our style and perspectives that attracted me here.

Instead, we run what we call “perspectives” (and the occasional “anti-review”). What we try to do is to talk about what we find interesting or important. What we find interesting isn't always the sort of thing that shows up in a traditional consumer-oriented game review. It's rarely about graphics, "gameplay" or how much time a game's narrative takes. What's interesting about a game may be more about how that game fits within other similar or dissimilar games. What's interesting may be the way we felt during a game, or some other thing that a game reminded us of. And unless we're talking at some meta level, what we find interesting about games is almost certainly not how many points we would give that game out of some slightly larger number of possible points.

There are many reasons we here at GWJ chose to write the way we do about the things we do. There were reasons not to go this way, too. But as the greater conversation about games has progressed, grown, mutated and spun off its countless tangents, the way we write at GWJ has kept us as an important part of that conversation.

I personally found myself in 2005 with a new degree, a couple style guides, a copy of the Norton Anthology Of Theory And Criticism (well, it was the 2001 version), and a hankering to see games treated as seriously and maturely as the literary fiction I had studied.

I spent a lot of time on blogs and websites. I may have cared more about the news posts on Penny-Arcade than the comics. I was hungry. When Google Reader launched, I filled it with voices. Anyone whose dinky blog came up in search results for “games are art” got added, at least provisionally. I surfed from link to link, opening everything in a new tab. It wasn’t always good, but it was gratifying to see it, and there was more of it every day. A vast conversation was coming together, even if the connections and responses weren’t always clear.

Somewhere in all that, I found myself at GWJ. My best guess is that it was a Major Nelson link, but I honestly can’t be certain anymore. There were a lot of links.

It turns out that around that same time, GWJ’s writers were working out what the front page would look like for years to come. They hadn’t decided on having a full-time copy-editor yet at that point (which may have been less a decision and more a way to get me to stop sending messages about typos), but all the same discussions going on with games journalists elsewhere were going on here. This was not too long after some of New Games Journalism’s first big steps, with writers ranging further outside examinations of the game itself, looking at their own experiences, pulling in things they had learned elsewhere. Students applied critical theory from film, philosophy, literature and other fields to what they saw in games. Game developers were beginning to write more publicly about the tough choices they’d made.

Journalism, the creation and publication of content on a regular basis, is a big field. Some journalism is working a beat, reporting facts. Some journalism is providing technical insight into how things work. Some journalism is just publication of entertaining guesswork, and some of it’s daydreaming for others’ enjoyment.

Any games site ultimately has to decide what kind of content it will publish. Most sites will make room for features and reflections, but regularly running news and reviews takes an act of will, and another element, be that name recognition, connections, or just plain luck. When GWJ faced the decision, folks still remembered that we broke the story when Half Life 2’s source code leaked. We’d also get occasional public recognition from bigger, funded voices in games journalism. Two roads diverged in a wood, and all that.

Let me be perfectly clear here: The two roads in that poem are both equally travelled, equally worn, and morally equal as far as the speaker could see. Same with different forms of games journalism.

A lot of GWJ writers over the years have had aspirations to join the ranks of professional games journalism. Quite a few have touched that dream. A lot of our writers join up with GWJ as an early step toward that goal, knowing how many have come this way before, and have gone on to make us proud beyond this hallowed URL. I’m not trying to say that it’s just OK for people to want that; I expressly condone that dream. Professional games journalism is a tough, tough job, and it often doesn’t pay nearly as well as it probably should, but I respect the heck out of folks who can pull it off. They’re doing what I consider to be important work, and I think my role in working with writers here is in many respects about helping new writers mature, find their voice, and learn how to use a semicolon properly.

You should not believe that we are the only ones to choose the way GWJ did. There have been numerous wonderful voices writing about games outside of news and reviews, and those voices grow stronger and more numerous by the day. It may seem like we made the easy and obvious choice, but it was neither easy nor obvious then, and it remains a complicated question without a wrong answer.

Not writing reviews changes the way a site and its writers relate to other writers, to game developers, and to all the different teams involved in publicizing and selling games. Not being part of the preview and review game means we're almost entirely uninteresting to marketers. That means we don't get as much access. We don't get showered in review codes and promotional materials. We hear about things, by and large, at the same time and in the same ways that you do.

Previews and reviews are the meat and potatoes of for-profit games journalism. Writing to inform consumers of what they should and shouldn't buy is where publications tie into the marketing system. If a reader turns to you for advice on what to buy, then it's natural for an advertiser to want to put their own message about what to buy alongside those articles. But if you're using a game as a launching point to talk about questions of inner peace and creative excellence in our hypermediated consumer society, those advertisers (and honestly, a lot of readers) aren't as interested. That doesn’t mean that marketing folks don’t respect us, just that we don’t figure into their budgets. We are a bad vehicle for marketing.

Here is where we come to a chicken/egg conundrum. Without giving review scores — without feeding into the Metacritic engine — we're largely out of the discussion when publishers, sales teams, marketers and advertisers figure out how to push a game. Without attention from advertisers, we don't have the income to pay writers to grind away on reviews that they may not be interested in. Without attention from marketers, we don't tend to get early review copies of games. We certainly aren't being flown to press junkets.

But there is another, larger conversation. There are conversations about what games mean to players and to society that we are exploring. And that larger conversation isn't just from those who don't write reviews. When any one voice speaks about a game, a series of games, or about games and gaming in general, that voice is part of a larger conversation. The folks writing news and reviews are also writing features and other longer-form work, and their experience seeing all those reviewed titles often provides their thoughts with valuable context.

We can’t be part of every conversation. Maybe that’s why we cherish the forums so much, because comments and forum posts add context and links to extend the conversation. Ultimately, discussion makes us wiser. We’re glad to be part of this conversation with you, and with all the other amazing — sometimes astounding — voices out there on the internet.

Comments

At one point during my first year of knowing and participating in this little corner of the Internet that I now call home, I started to think of ways to better monetize the site.

It took me about 3 minutes to realize that:
a) I was an egomaniac. Was I really to believe no one could come up with a way to make gwj profitable?
b) why on earth would I want to turn gwj into every other site out there?

Soon enough I learned about the donation drive and was happy to learn the community made the site sustainable.

As I've waned away from actual gaming and comfortably learned to appreciate in its stead reading and discussing about my hobby, I've enjoyed the site and its community a lot more. The level of discourse is unparalleled with anything out there.

God I loved that anit-review. And this from someone who played Vanguard at launch and still has a bit of fondness for it. The fanboy rage in the last pages of the thread, 2 years after the review, is so...so...hmmmm, let me feed off your tears of pain, wuhahahaha!

Can I get a link to that anti-review?

First link in the article.

and learn how to use a semicolon properly.

I refuse!

ccesarano wrote:
and learn how to use a semicolon properly.

I refuse!

I have never had much use for semi-colons;;; I like ellipses though;;; I have been told that they don't do what I think they do... like ending a sentence...

I still occasionally get notes about the anti-review. It was hated on a very special level by some.

Wordy, I think you hit the nail on the head with the one word title for this post.

The GWJ front page isn't the place to get the latest previews and reviews. But it certainly is the place to have a meta-conversation around gaming.

At the same time, the founders and writers have certainly been able to parlay some of the site cred to get onto the radar of key folks in the industry. I'm always amazed when I see rabbit and Ken Levine going back and forth on Twitter. And hell, demiurge is Editor-In-Chief over at PC Gamer now!

On the other side of the fence, there is certainly a place for GWJ in the marketing plans of those that produce our favorite products - and it's not the scope of the usual news and reviews. I don't want to speak for everyone, but I certainly wouldn't enjoy reading it, and I doubt the staff writers would have fun writing that kind of stuff.

But I like knowing that everything posted on the front page has been untouched by marketing budgets.

Added some links. Because links are good unless you're writing for a print medium.

At the same time, the founders and writers have certainly been able to parlay some of the site cred to get onto the radar of key folks in the industry.

Certainly so. And we do get some review codes, but we're also not surprised if we ask for one and don't get a response.

To be more on-topic, I think there certainly is a space to have games writing that focuses on things other than the revolving door of the latest and greatest, but it is harder to sustain at larger levels. I think The Escapist is a perfect example of this transformation, though there are certainly other factors going on there as well (such as snagging Zero Punctuation and from there developing a really huge library of video content).

In truth, part of me really does miss their more features-focused approach, and I find myself going there less and less as time progresses. On the other hand, there is always a reason for me to go there. I think they chose what was best for them, and that is being a true multimedia website with video games at its core.

I think the first step to setting yourself apart in the current games journalism front is to focus on writing interesting stuff. As someone that has gone to websites dedicated to "finding games journalism jobs", I cannot tell you the sheer number of sites that are trying to start up on just news and reviews, and promise to pay once they've become profitable (or offer only $10 per review if they do offer money at all).

I think The Escapist did it right. They started with a niche idea, evolved based on the demands of the audience, and also took advantage of the fact that things work differently on the Internet. They aren't an imitation of a print magazine any longer. They are a multimedia hub.

But, they could not have gotten so large if it weren't for stepping further and further away from focusing on long-form feature articles exclusively. Those will always be smaller and niche, but I think they certainly have value.

Stay the course, friends! S'wonderful!

ccesarano wrote:

As someone that has gone to websites dedicated to "finding games journalism jobs", I cannot tell you the sheer number of sites that are trying to start up on just news and reviews, and promise to pay once they've become profitable (or offer only $10 per review if they do offer money at all).

Absolutely. There are a lot of people trying to write about games, and almost all of us would like to get paid for our work if we can. It's a level of competition that makes me even more proud of my friends that make it (and probably doubly fearful when one of our proteges expresses an interest in going pro).

Not that folks shouldn't be interested, just that it's up there with wanting to be a Navy SEAL in my mind.

So I just read the last couple of pages of the anti-review.

So awesome. Start on page 9, that's where the awesome is.

mudbunny wrote:

So I just read the last couple of pages of the anti-review.

So awesome. Start on page 9, that's where the awesome is.

I only see one comment on page 9.

I'm taking an honors course, 19th Century Novels Into Film, this semester with a pretty fantastic professor. The conversations have been fantastic, in part because the professor is for all intents and purposes, the founder of Literary Darwinist Theory.

While there is plenty of skepticism around the merits of his theories, the focus creates interesting conversations. He believes we are hardwired to enjoy stories that teach us lessons about how to better mates and how to improve survival. This means we really dig into what stories mean to a society, and then contrast that with filmmakers have to choose between adapt in the stories literally,versus adapting them to our current culture.

So it was kind of fun to see the discussion drive one student (seriously, it wasn't me) to describe his experience when showing a friend of his a video about a certain video game that he found interesting. He was frustrated because his buddy said, "But I still don't know if I should buy the game or not." The student through is hands up in exasperation, because it wasn't the point. It was supposed to be a launching pad for a discussion about what games meant to them.

In the end, I don't think we are quite to the point where we can have English classes that look deeper into the stories of video games, but if guys like Ken Levine have their way, we could get there.

Of course, that just makes me lament the gratuitous violence of Bioshock Infinite. I think my professor would find that game fascinating, but I would have a hard time showing him what that game is in the midst of the violence. I really wanted that game to be about 10% fighting and 90% story and puzzles. If it had been, there is a good chance it could have been the game to really draw more academic interest.

In the end, I don't think we are quite to the point where we can have English classes that look deeper into the stories of video games

Oh, we have those. They're not just about the prepackaged narratives of the games, though, or they spread out beyond game stories in other ways. I was just in a class a couple years ago that was sort of about stories about games plus game stories.

That looks like an interesting offering. I'm taking an advanced grammar class from a linguistics professor this semester, too. But I'm missing his much more interesting class: Language, Ethnicity, and Inequality in The Wire.

I think deconstructing pop culture is a great way to immerse yourself in language and culture.

wordsmythe wrote:
mudbunny wrote:

So I just read the last couple of pages of the anti-review.

So awesome. Start on page 9, that's where the awesome is.

I only see one comment on page 9.

Stupid iPhone. That should be page 8, look for Mike1234.

Jayhawker wrote:

That looks like an interesting offering. I'm taking an advanced grammar class from a linguistics professor this semester, too. But I'm missing his much more interesting class: Language, Ethnicity, and Inequality in The Wire.

I think deconstructing pop culture is a great way to immerse yourself in language and culture.

There's a reason most lit. classes throw you at a work and have you use your critical and theoretical perspectives on them.

Then again, this doesn't always transition easily if you find yourself actually immersed in what could be the setting for The Wire.