What do you want from your games journalists?

The rabid folks who frequent NeoGAF had some pretty interesting reactions to writer N’Gai Croal’s latest column, which deals with realism in games. Croal’s column is an interesting piece that discusses the contrast between art design choices in a few current-gen games, and I recommend giving it a read.

Some of the NeoGAF community members’ responses have me shaking my head, though.

This thread begins attacking Croal’s word choices a mere three posts in, with many replies calling him pretentious, and others wondering if he consulted a thesaurus for the inclusion of the word “verisimilitude.”

The thread prompted another separate outburst from NeoGAF user Firestorm, who wonders aloud about the hypocrisy of readers who pine for deeper, more intelligent coverage of games — and then label the very articles they’re asking for as “pretentious” whenever a critic dares to write something that falls outside of either a consumer report or a top 10 list.

We whine incessantly about how the state of the gaming press. The very idea of gaming journalism makes us snort with laughter like junkwaffles’ caricatures. This is all good. We want the games media to improve itself. Stop pandering to the lowest common denominator we say. Stop disguising the bullet points in press releases as hands-on previews. Stop giving us five page “Top 5” articles every week. For the love of all that is holy, stop treating us like we’re still twelve years old. However, every time anybody tries to break the mold and take the job seriously, it’s considered “pretentious”. Analyzing a game as more than just a toy? Pretentious. Reviewing a game as more than just a product? Pretentious. Using a word that we didn’t learn in grade school? Pretentious.

I think Firestorm sums the issue up pretty well here. I’m curious, though — what do you think? Is this a “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” situation? Is the vast majority of the gaming audience too young (at any given time, really) to read and engage in intelligent discussion about games? Is this just something we want and are just drinking our own Kool-Aid over? Are system wars, templated reviews, fact-sheet previews, and hilarious top 10 lists really what you like/want/respond to, despite claims to the contrary? And, if not, can you explicitly define what you do want from your gaming coverage (that is, something you wouldn’t label “pretentious”)?

Who gets it right? Who gets it wrong? Head to the forum and talk about this stuff, people!



31 Responses to “ “What do you want from your games journalists?”

  1. Thank you for your blog post. Great.

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  3. Steven Valero "Naota_391" says:

    I don’t entirely agree with all that he says, but as you said, it was an interesting read. I’m a little tired of extremely long interviews being the only things that break the pace between the usual flow of things you see on gaming news sites. Editorials like this would be great, and I’d love to hear more about their views on games and the industry. Like this whole thing on games JUST being games these days. That isn’t the reality anymore. Like it or not, games ARE moving away towards more complex things. Games are trying to give you a wider range of emotions than just competitiveness, excitement, and general happy feelings. Games aren’t just games, they are becoming expressions and more along the lines of art. Stories aimed at shocking you, making, sad, happy, and or even angry aren’t just “games” anymore. They’re something more, and I think it’s important that we start talking about and accepting this.

  4. falcomadol says:

    I don’t think that what the games press is putting out is shit.

    I do think that their continuously whinging about what they do is annoying, though.

    I mean, seriously, has anyone felt more pain ever than listening to Garnett Lee agonize over what score to give to 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand? Seriously?

    Game’s fun, dammit, give it a good score. And no, on your rating system, C is not a good score. You know that it isn’t because you believe yourself that it isn’t true because you agonize over whether to give it a C or a B.

    If you’re wondering whether a game is a C or a B, and it’s fun, then it’s a B. If you’re uncomfortable with scoring, then don’t score. If you can’t enjoy a fun game without criticizing it…then it’s time to go develop games like the dozens of other games writers that have been leaving the sinking games press ship like wet rats.

  5. John says:

    Depends on the site or source I’m going to, N’Gai I like reading his views on most aspects of gaming/journalism because he can convey them in an eloquent manner that is enjoyable to read.If im going to Kotaku i just want bullet points and links.

    So long as its good writing I’ll enjoy it

  6. sdf says:

    Hey look, I have a high-school diploma. Tom your “comment” is overwrought and adds up to nothing. Game journalists writing about game journalism is as useless as weathermen talking about meteorology.

  7. Dexter says:

    I think the future of games Jounalism is Blog with some more in depth content. I know I spend most of my time on Giant Bomb which is much like Joystiq except the put an extra emphasis on unique video content.

    I feel though that Giant Bomb reports news when it comes in much like Joystiq and Kotaku and I feel it was unfair when you called Joystiq and Kotaku the same Ryan but cant notice that Giant Bomb is much similiar. Both Kotaku and Joystiq have unique and funny features and personalities. Giant Bomb is my favourite website because of the way they report the news as it happens but never uses it as a headline.

    The main reason most people used to buy mags was for new screenshots, announcments and a glance at reviews. Sites like joystiq provide this information in a 21st century way and I feel this is the way it should go.

  8. Brock says:

    Beat me to the punch Tom.

    Truer worder never typed.

  9. Tom says:

    Some of the replies above and elsewhere reveal an inertia to thought. Many gamers seem to be too lazy to entertain the idea of helping out their informants, the reporters and journalists, with a little consideration about what they might actually want to consume. So it goes, as per the post:

    PUBLIC: “Games journalism is shit.”
    JOURNO: “Ok how about…. THIS.”
    PUBLIC: “That was pretentious.”

    And then on the forums and blogs:

    JOURNO: “Riiight, so what is it you actually want?”
    PUBLIC: “Write about games.”
    JOURNO: “But how? In what way and to how much depth? How much of my time, money and effort is required to meet your needs?”
    PUBLIC: “SHUT UP!! SHUUT UUUUP! Just write about games.”
    JOURNO: “Fine! Here.”
    PUBLIC: “That was shit again. Great, more shit.”
    JOURNO: “Ok, then. Here.”
    PUBLIC: “Pretentious! Where are the games?!”

    What should then happen is all writing about or around games ceases and one central website opens where publishers can post press releases and former games journalists submit percent scores for approval for each one, assuming they have played it for at least half an hour.

    Gamers! Stop demanding for more then demanding less at the same time with zero clarification. Is it any wonder games journalism is so unsure of itself? It’s audience refuse to give feedback! Stop asking them to stop asking us what we want—they’re trying to make us happy! “Just write about games” means nothing! Your brains are in atrophy. Think for 5 minutes a day. Honestly, you’ll feel great.

  10. […] Ryan Scott escreveu em seu blog, o Geekbox, é difícil acreditar que o público realmente queira uma cobertura mais rica da indústria dos […]

  11. sdf says:

    how about this: please stfu about game journalism, and write about games again ffs

  12. Teng says:

    As usual I think this is simple a problem with people (particularly the internet ones) in general. They just like to critique. So yes, you will be damned regardless of your actions.

    I personally carry little expectations from game journalists, I mean in the manner in which they convey themselves that is. If i don’t like what i’m reading i simply DON’T READ IT. No one is forcing me to.

  13. Joonas Tepp says:

    The one thing that I want from a gaming industry writer, is to know, that his taste in games is so universal, that I could read his/her article and go “hmm, if he likes it/recommends it, then I should try it out”.
    Also, the game journalist should not, and I repeat, SHOULD NOT start taking games of the same genre and putting them both on the line – a’la Halo vs Killzone vs Gears Of War vs Mario Party etc.
    I don’t mind if the article includes sentences like “If you’re looking for a good-old fashioned fun, then gives you just that, reminding games like “. No problem with that.
    And of course, lastly, but most importantly – STOP ILLITERACY, by not sticking a number/grade/star-rating to a review, because it really defeats the whole purpose of a review.

  14. Falcomadol says:

    I want games journalists to stop navel gazing, I’m kind of tired of that.

    Apart from that, I’m looking for the same array of sources that I look at for anything, I want specialists who really know their shit, who come from that “academic background,” who can tell me where this game stands in the pantheon of gaming, the historical context. I want guys who have been involved in making games who can tell me about how it’s done, who can explain how Z-buffering works and why it’s integral to modern 3d consoles. I want a community of guys who play a lot of games but who have a real life beyond that who I can just hang out and chill with and take their opinions seriously or reject them without the rejection of their opinion being a rejection of their friendship.

    The pretentiousness comes from the navel gazing, not from the knowing what you’re doing or from having an interest in games that extends beyond grabbing one off the shelf at blockbuster and bringing it home for your kids to play all weekend.

  15. Brer says:

    [Hogan] Ya call that a pretentious article about video games? THIS… http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n01/lanc01_.html …is a pretentious article about about video games. [/Hogan]

    Anyway, my point is that I don’t feel that article was pretentious in any way. Not in subject matter and not in word choice. If anything, I’d argue that the reaction here is an example of a self-perpetuating and self-fulfilling cycle of low expectations that goes on in not just in the gaming press but in the press and the American media generally. Content producers assume their audience is stupid, lazy, poorly educated, etc. They skew their writing and their content accordingly. Over time, the majority of the audience becomes accustomed to not having to expend much in the way of mental effort when consuming media produc, even the intelligent ones. Even if they used to know the difference between media and medium or what verisimilitude means they forget because the vast majority of normal human beings dump knowledge they don’t regularly use, even the smart ones. In short, I think that as we see more analysis and criticism coming from the gaming press we’re eventually going to see the reading public respond in kind. The key word is “eventually”.

    That said, it’s entirely possible to go overboard and spin off into the self-congratulatory and over-analytic masturbation that a lot of self-appointed “literary critics” indulge in, but this article doesn’t even come close. Now, as far as what I want from the gaming press:

    -Find sources of revenue other than the gaming industry. This applies to websites and podcasts and web video as much as print publications.

    -Try to produce at least an occasional piece of “criticism” in the “literary criticism” sense of the word, and get dialogues going on these pieces both between press responding to each other’s columns, and with the audience where practical. Some of this already happens, obviously, but I’d like to see more of it.

    -As noted above, don’t talk down to your audience. That’s not to say that I don’t get a kick out of Top Ten articles and the like, but that doesn’t have to be all of it.

    -Review scores: don’t use them or de-emphasize them. Yes, I know, I know, my tastes are apparently in the minority here, but I’m one of those wierdos who actually does read entire reviews, even the ones that are more than a few hundred words.

    -Most of the above is what I want out of the gaming press as critics (in the sense of literary critics) and/or reviewers (the two can overlap but are not synonymous). The last thing is the hardest, but is what I want out of the gaming press as press/journalists/newshounds. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Let me expand.

    I’m not at all sure that I accept the idea that being first and being accurate in your reporting are mutually exclusive. Even if we accept that as true, there needs to be some sort of firewall between coverage that’s basically unverified rumours and second-hand information, and researched, fact-checked, verified stories, and those unverified rumours and second hand reposts should not be 90% of the stories any site/blog/podcast that purports to have a “news” component is putting out there. I’m going to try and rein myself in here, but suffice to say that I won’t point to the mainstream press outlets of print and television because they’re usually just as bad. If a news story or god forbid a -feature- segment of a gaming site/podcast/etc cannot tell me more about a subject than I can find in 60 seconds with a visit to wikipedia or a google search, they are “doing it wrong”.

  16. Psmurf16 says:

    All i want is honesty from the writer. That is why i love podcasts.

  17. Michael says:

    I want my game journalists to A) stop getting involved in Internet arguments about game journalism, B) stop worrying about the nature of their work – “Are we critics? Are we journalists?”, C) always put an emphasis on integrity, and lastly, D) just write about some damn games.

  18. Panda says:

    I can’t believe that anyone would call out that article for being pretentious. However, I don’t read NeoGAF so that might have something to do with it.

    So, what do I want out of games journalism? I want to hear about things games are doing now, have done in the past, and could do in the future. I want intelligence. I want people with experience to really get into what they want.

    And for the love of god, I want people to stop talking about how “hot” video game characters are as the first response to the question of what they thought about a game. What the hell did that ever have to do with whether a game is any good?

  19. Meatshirt says:

    “its mario stomping on a goomba.”

    Miyamoto, the artist responsible for all our Goomba stomping, might disagree with that statement. I mean, I appreciate that games are games first and foremost, but does that stop fanatical sportsmen from developing and debating their art? Did the fact that War is War prevent Sun Tzu from exploring its artistry? Did Picasso… Nope.

    No sir.

    Everything is art if you are willing to be its artist, and thus, if we demand serious critique from the gaming press (as we do) then we should expect them to treat it as an art. Otherwise, they’re exactly the wrong people to be exploring my favourite artform. If that means that we have to grow up and accept that we can’t possibly understand everything, and that – shock horror – MAYBE we should be educating ourselves a little, then thats a sacrifice Me n’ My Ego are willing to make 🙂

  20. Andres says:

    @Rowan:

    Maybe you’re speaking in a broader context, but in this particular instance it seems that the one and only part that people are pointing to as “pretentious” is the use of the word verisimilitude.

    Honestly? That word was well-used in it’s context. In the piece he asked “what is it that we mean when we say that a game is realistic?” Instead of saying “the appearance of realism”, he used an English word that means exactly that: verisimilitude.

    Again, he’s not using a foreign word, it’s English.

    It’s not as if he were talking about “the beautiful Himalayan Hylidae” when he’s talking about tree frogs. In that hypothetical case, he’s using one noun to replace another. No net benefit or reason there. In this case, versimilitude is a noun that describes a concept, kind of how the noun ecstatic describes a feeling of delight.

    It’s a word. If you don’t know it, look it up. Especially on the internet, a definition is a simple search away.

  21. Rowan says:

    The comments about podcasts is spot on. Whenever N’Gai is ona podcast, especially Out of the Game I listen intently because he speaks in a way that I find interesting and engaging. But when he writes an article I feel he’s trying to flex his writing muscles and has a thesasurus to hand!

    I have no problem with games journalism tackling high level concepts and head sratching stuff, just do it in a way that doesnt read like a paper you would submit at university.

  22. Andres says:

    N’Gai’s editorial and it’s subsequent mess of a NeoGAF thread sparks so many different questions that it’s hard to know where to start. Honestly, I’ve been thinking about writing a post on my blog about this for most of the day, which means it will probably never get written. In any case, this question is as good as any to start with.

    I would personally want more of N’Gai’s style. For me, there are two levels to where I enjoy all my media. On one level, I enjoy it superficially, enjoying the emotions and thoughts it elicits naturally as I experience it. For those pieces that truly strike me as particularly interesting (or dismal in some cases), I have a tendency towards trying to deconstruct how and why it elicited that reaction from me. The ability to read or listen to someone’s own analysis and deconstruction of their own experience can be equally interesting.

    But see, that’s me.

    I can understand the sentiment of those like Banana Kid that have no desire to delve that deep in this or possibly in any other media they prefer to not delve to much into. If you play games simply to have fun, then you’re not simply of the personality or the mindset to enjoy that sort of discussion. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just not for that person. Yet, that’s where the really interesting part lies.

    This is all a symptom of an industry that is rapidly changing. It’s been happening for a long time, but this generation has been especially turbulent in my opinion. There are all sorts of people playing games now. There are those who just see them as entertainment vehicles, those that simply see them as nothing more than toys, those that want to discuss and discover the ability and implications of games in the larger context of society as a whole, and on and on. So, we get games like Braid, Rez, and Shadow of the Colossus that expand what a game can be. Now, we still have the Killzones, the Street Fighters, and the Marios we always had. There’s just more variety now. No one expects anyone to love all of those games. You might love them all, but the next person might wrinkle their nose at Street Fighter (perish the thought).

    Why can’t we have the same variety in game writers?

    Why can’t we have the product reviewers we always had, the enthusisasts we’ve always had, and maybe let this new group of writers that want to peer further behind the veil do so? They are of no threat to each other. They can coexist rather peacefully. They do so in all other critical media. Roger Ebert does not write the same kind of criticism of movies that an Entertainment Weekly editor does. Nor should he.

    In my view all this outcry is just the industry’s growing pains. All this groaning and bitching is akin to a pre-teen howling through growing pains. Let them. It’ll stop eventually. The industry, creators, critics, and consumers alike, will eventually get over it.

    (There’s a lot more I stopped myself from writing. Maybe I should do that blog post after all. So lazy.)

  23. Michal says:

    I’m 32 and I didn’t know the word.

    I’m pretty sure I had learnt it as a child (at my school they taught Greek and Latin roots as early as grade 4).

    I don’t understand the what the big deal is. Not everybody knows or remembers every word and it’s not difficult to look up something you’re unfamiliar with (especially in the age of the internet).

    The real question is not why some people react this way to “games journalism”, but why some people react this way to anything they don’t understand or agree with.

    This should not be your target audience to begin with.

  24. Sm4k says:

    Personally, I want a more serious streak in games journalism. I pine for podcasts like the (now gone) Game Theory podcast where they had very intellectual discussions about why games did what and all that. I think stuff like that (and NGai’s article) are were gaming needs to go to meet gamers like me.

    I think that gamers as a whole are having a serious identity crisis as many of us who wish to shed the stereotypical xbox live pubescent-squawk-box stigma, are struggling with the people who fit that very mold. There’s more than one type of gamer out there, and some of us are louder than others.

    I’m a new reader of NGai’s work (as far as I know anyway–I’ve only recently started paying attention to by-lines), and I like the approach he takes, but you have to be careful when you write casually when you want to be taken seriously. It really does sound like even he doesn’t know the exact tone he wants the article to take, using colloquialisms like ‘um’ in the same breath as ‘lexicon’. Confusion like that just makes him sound like he’s purposefully touting a larger vocabulary just for the sake of it, which is why I think he’s drawing the thesaurus comments.

    That said, I think he’s an excellent writer.

  25. Kropotkin says:

    This discussion does bring to mind a rather memorable edition of Listen Up. It was memorable for all the wrong reasons as it featured a rather drunk person yelling about ‘games being the most important thing in the world’ or some such other sentiment. I support intelligent discourse on the hobby we all know and love, but there are times when it can verge into pointless navel staring that isn’t warrented or indeed needed.

    It is this arena that Mr Croal marches into a little too heartily I fear and that results in the posts on NeoGAF described above.

  26. Iceveiled says:

    I’m not picky. I just want my gaming articles bias free, well written and spell checked.

  27. Nate says:

    Stop saying “audience” as if it applied evenly to everyone.

    If you don’t like a certain person’s approach to writing about a topic, don’t read it.

    I read about football, but not all the craziness that involves schools of thought on defense and who learned what from who. But at the same time, I don’t expect certain writers who ARE taking a much more “inside baseball” angle to football to change how they discuss the topic.

  28. Banana Kid says:

    Even though I get what they’re saying that any attempts to do something serious gets called “pretentious”, but…I don’t really want that. You can write a five-page article on how game X is a piece of art, but I’m not going to be interested. iIplay games to have fun. I don’t want games journalism to start taking itself too seriously, like (arguably) a lot of games are these days – i.e., the endless GTAIV vs. Saints Row 2 debate.

    I think how big podcasts have gotten in the gaming space is a sign of where it should be going. Games journalists are becoming internet celebrities not as brilliant writers, but as entertainers. The personalities have become really important – Giant Bomb was built on the weight Jeff Gerstmann and Ryan Davis (and, later, Brad Shoemaker and Vinnie Caravella) carried as personalities. If they hadn’t poured themselves into the Hotspot and On the Spot like they did, nobody would care about them and, thus, nobody would really care about Giant Bomb. The same concept applies to Geekbox and Rebel FM. Frankly, if not for the podcasts before and after the 1UP split, people just wouldn’t care.

    At this point, I think that’s the best way to do journalism. Just put yourself out there, build a personality, and be genuinely funny and likable. The podcasts are the best way to get people to know you, but it’s not hard to show some of that in your writing. It’s entertaining without being condescending.

    And if you want to do any artistic stuff, at least consider your audience. Nobody knows what the fuck “versimilitude” means.

  29. Jeremy says:

    I’d turn it around and ask what you want from your gaming public.

    Did you prefer the pre-internet days when information essentially went one way? Consumers are engaging the press more directly than ever… the same way they engage each other. Sometimes it’s ugly. It’s a giant public discussion, and you’re never going to nail down the single thing that everyone wants. I happen to disagree with Joe AND Rowan, on some level.

    I think it’s great to have important-sounding discussions. The medium needs them. (Inasmuch as people want them, I suppose.) I wish they could always be easily digestible.

    That’s one of the attractions of podcasts, for sure. They’re conversational.

  30. Nate says:

    “Gamers are average people”

    So, people with an education are not average, or people who play games are not educated?

    “why cant games do the same?”

    There are plenty of examples of a more standard approach to journalism of any medium. Look at movie reviews on a random blog. However, don’t expect that same base level of discourse to be everywhere. Look at the difference of reviews on a fansite or what have you, versus the same content you will get with Pitchfork or Paste Magazine, or even Rolling Stone.

    A reader should never be threatened by the writing. However, the onus on understanding the words is placed on the reader, not the writer. Use it as a time to learn, not get angry at the person for knowing a word that you hadn’t previously.

    We shouldn’t dumb down writing for some imaginary base level.

    Some writers are taking a much more critical eye to the medium, just as with any other medium. You’ll not get the same review of a movie at Aintitcool.com as you would when reading a piece in American Cinematragrapher.

    If you don’t want that level of discourse, don’t involve yourself in it. But don’t expect everyone to be at the same level.

  31. Joe Rybicki says:

    For the record, I did learn “verisimilitude” in grade school. If I remember correctly, it was either Encyclopedia Brown or Jupiter Jones. Whoever it was had stolen his mom’s mink stole to use as a stand-in for a fierce creature in a game of jungle commando.

    Good Christ, why do I remember that?

    And oh yeah, anyone hating on N’Gai needs to grow the fuck up.

  32. Rowan says:

    The problem is that video games jounalists equate deeper more meaningfull articles with a piece that contains numerous long winded passages and words that no one without a english lit degree would understand.
    Gamers are average people, write for the audience about interesting topics in a way that an average person can read. You can pick up a broadsheet newspaper and read a great article on Africa without feeling like you need to wear a monacle and have a friend called tarquin, why cant games do the same?

    I’m afraid the reality is that we have very few good writers in the field of games and the few good writers seem to be on a mission to write in a style that would recieve praise from a University professor but not be comprehensible to the average Joe. Games arent that important, they are a entertainment, treat them as such when writing about them. Its not a art critique, its mario stomping on a goomba.

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