So You Want to Write About Games

So in an attempt to get some conversation in this thread going, a nifty video Wordsmythe posted went over a brief history of games journalism, its relation to the publishers and developers, and how it has been impacted by the Internet. In this video, the notion of "New Games Journalism" is brought up once more.

The one thing that sort of bugs me about games writing is that it feels like everyone is trying to limit it. I long ago accepted that I don't want to be a games journalist, as my passion is more in studying and critiquing game design and the surrounding elements. I'd rather do analysis or an entertaining variant thereof. So while some of the "New Games Journalism" style of writing fits my style, I don't find the name to be a proper fit.

This isn't to say I don't have an interest in speaking with developers or publishers, or that I don't occasionally want to find out stories and information. The way I view it is, when a journalist sits down with a developer and discusses the time making a game, a journalist asks "what happened next", or "what happened at this point". They want information and the human side of the story. When I sit down with a developer making a game, I ask "why did you make this choice?" or "was this inspired by game X's design?", because I'm seeing the mechanics. I want to know what was going on in the developer's mind and how they developed something.

Which reminds me, it is LONG time since I got back in touch with a contact I made at PAX East (God, I'd make a horrible game journalist, I told the guy I'd email him within a week after the expo).

So to me, games criticism and analysis, and therefore reviews, are separate from journalism. Journalism is about facts in my mind, and no matter how objective you try to be about a game, there will always be some level of subjective opinion. For example, I can understand the mechanics in a game like Borderlands, but I cannot comprehend why people seem to love it as much as they do.

In this case, I believe most of the writing on GamersWithJobs would be classified as New Games Journalism. But really, should it be? Is it truly journalism, or is it simply good writing focused around games? Is there a name for that? Or should there be a name for it?

I'm eager to hear other thoughts.

while some of the "New Games Journalism" style of writing fits my style, I don't find the name to be a proper fit.

That's because when you hear "journalism," you think of the thing that I call "reporting."

Reporting is a great skill, and working a reporting beat is a great way to get used to writing well under deadline about things regardless of whether the spirit is moving in you, but ... yeah, different than criticism. Commercial review work kinda shares aspects of both, to me.

Which reminds me, it is LONG time since I got back in touch with a contact I made at PAX East (God, I'd make a horrible game journalist, I told the guy I'd email him within a week after the expo).

Don't worry about it. I'm sure their inbox hasn't been desperately empty.

no matter how objective you try to be about a game, there will always be some level of subjective opinion. For example, I can understand the mechanics in a game like Borderlands, but I cannot comprehend why people seem to love it as much as they do.

Reminds me of the ludology (mechanics only) v. narrativist (story) debates in academia about a decade ago. The latter camp wanted to look at games as a form of storytelling, but the former camp said things like "if your perspective doesn't apply to games, it's not worth discussing in a pure games-studies curriculum. Leave that for your comp. lit. journals."

Now we talk about how mechanics and story/aesthetic components work together, hopefully including the atmosphere in which a game was made, published, and received by players. Like I said on the GenCon podcast, "I think it's more complicated than that" is usually the right response.

In this case, I believe most of the writing on GamersWithJobs would be classified as New Games Journalism.

I think that's probably about right, though I don't worry as much about GWJ as I do about NGJ in general, since NGJ done poorly can come off more as presenting evidence without making any sort of claim. I still like a strong point on games writing, even if the point is implicit.

This is true. As I've stated multiple times around here, a few years ago I asked myself if games writing was really for me. In the process, I asked if I'd be writing even if video games didn't exist.

The issue with writing is that it seems like such an easy thing, and you are praised for minimizing your typos. As the Ben Abraham video demonstrated, early on in games journalism a lot of people were hired more for their skill at and knowledge of games rather than writing ability. So if most of the reading you've done is games writing, chances are you have a lot of bad ideas about what makes a good article.

Hell, I still struggle with writing reviews on my blog. Trying to be informative and entertaining at the same time is a pain. It's why I sometimes love when you get a game like Bioshock Infinite fall into your lap. I was able to construct a thesis around introducing "smart" games to the "frat" folk by using its simplified mechanics as not only a meta-commentary and tie-in to the notion of choice, but a great way to present a more complex and challenging narrative by having gameplay that appealed to the lowest common denominator.

But then you have games like Gears of War: Judgment, which...I'm not exactly how I want to approach it. It was fun, but it wasn't incredible. At first I thought the arcadey addition of the "declassified" missions were going to ruin the flow and miss the style, but they actually enhanced the game. So how do I go over this information? My first draft is too much like other game reviews: a checklist of how the game is played. That's not a critique or analysis, and it's certainly not presenting the information in an entertaining to read manner.

I actually love the challenge, though, even if it is a pain in the ass.

I think there's also room to ask about where YouTube and other such videos fit in, and even Let's Plays. I feel like a video has the potential of reaching a broader audience than an article, and in some ways the format makes it easier to get a point across. At the same time, you run into a lot of problems there with audience as well, only instead of Seanbaby you have to deal with PewDiePie.

ccesarano wrote:
The one thing that sort of bugs me about games writing is that it feels like everyone is trying to limit it.

Limiting writing IS journalism. As a newspaper editor, I think my job description is pretty much putting limits on people. Typically every article needs to be within a certain number of words. Every news article needs to follow the journalist writing style with a strong lead. Features are less limited but all articles need to follow certain guidelines and I'll send articles back if they don't have enough quotes or enough sources, etc.

And it's not just gaming journalism where you sometimes have to write about a dud with no inspiration behind it. I can usually pick out the features I want to write but I still often have to write about crap that I have no interest in whatsoever. Don't think I have any advice for those times, other than make a strong lead and the rest of the article writes itself as if on cruise control.

So I guess the morale of my post is that games journalism isn't so different, lol. I'll watch the video when I have more time.

Ah, not quite what I meant, but actually accurate, though changing with the growth of the Internet. What I more meant was something along the lines of pidgeon-hole. "Games journalism is defined as this, and New Games Journalism is defined as this". I think there are all kinds of spaces for games writing, as long as the writing is of excellent quality.

The limits you mention, however, are a necessity. I used to love writing and reading really, really long pieces. I recall a time where every game analysis I made had an article for positives and one for negatives. Now I not only lack the time to write that, I lack the time to read such things as well.

There are some games capable of warranting that level of analysis, but it requires much better organization and time than I gave it. Imposing limits really forces someone to sit back and think "what am I trying to say, and how can I best communicate it to the reader?"

What's the place in games writing for older work? I would like to see stuff written about Dungeons of Daggorath and The Killing Cloud as much as Batman: Arkham Origins and Metal Gear Solid 14. There's a fetishization of the currency of a game over its quality. The Machinima-distributed All Your History series is a good step toward a historical perspective, but I think the old SSI gold-box games can be just as relevant as newer games on their merits as games and not just historical waypoints.

ccesarano wrote:
But then you have games like Gears of War: Judgment, which...I'm not exactly how I want to approach it. It was fun, but it wasn't incredible. At first I thought the arcadey addition of the "declassified" missions were going to ruin the flow and miss the style, but they actually enhanced the game. So how do I go over this information? My first draft is too much like other game reviews: a checklist of how the game is played. That's not a critique or analysis, and it's certainly not presenting the information in an entertaining to read manner.

Cheeba's "cruise control" idea is pretty right on, but I've also taken and given inspiration by pointing to film critics. When Siskel & Ebert covered the TMNT movie, they approached it for what it was and on those terms, rather than comparing it to a different sort of film. They'd often say something like "it might not be a particularly intellectually challenging piece, but it's not trying to be." (You can see where Ebert's fetishization of the auteur and his views on authorial control/intent tie in there, though.)

cheeba wrote:
So I guess the morale of my post is that games journalism isn't so different, lol.

Absolutely. Journalism is primarily about the business of putting together and publishing words on a regular basis.

muraii wrote:
What's the place in games writing for older work? I would like to see stuff written about Dungeons of Daggorath and The Killing Cloud as much as Batman: Arkham Origins and Metal Gear Solid 14. There's a fetishization of the currency of a game over its quality. The Machinima-distributed All Your History series is a good step toward a historical perspective, but I think the old SSI gold-box games can be just as relevant as newer games on their merits as games and not just historical waypoints.

There's not too much stuff on older games outside academic stuff (and most of that's still not published), but there are some blogs out there if you google for an individual game. Not much critical stuff so much as historical documentation, though. (See also the National Museum of Play and MobyGames.) The notion of pushing back against the current marketing focus, though, was a main driver in starting Critical-Distance.com.