By request of sebtownsage
The impact of games journalism? About 56 meters per second.
I tend to be fairly philosophical about this weird career path I’ve ended up on. I am not exactly changing the world with what I do. Like I mentioned yesterday, I’m writing about escapist diversions for people with both a surfeit of free time and the personal wealth necessary to own a computer or computing device, which is a rather small percentage of the world. It’s not exactly on a level with the Peace Corps, or a suicide prevention hotline, or an interpreter at the United Nations. At some point, I will probably write a retrospective about Boogerman. That sort of self-realization tends to instill a sense of humility in a man.
But looking beyond myself to the work that surrounds me… sure. Games journalism has had some impact over the years, especially if you expand the definition of “journalism” to what it actually means (creating and publishing editorial content whether factual or opinion-based) as opposed to the bizarrely narrow definition that people on gaming forums use when they sneer about games “journalists.” There’s a tendency among certain people to cripple the term journalism by limiting it to news reporter; I have no idea if this is true for other facets of the press, but it’s curiously pervasive around these here parts.
At its most basic level as a vehicle for offering consumer advice, games journalism has had plenty of impact. Think reviews. For all that I see people haughtily proclaim that they don’t deign to take advice from game reviews, someone out there must be looking at scores, because there are certain publishers and PR who get really bent out of shape about scores they find unsatisfactory. There are probably publishers who still cancel ad buys and boycott publications because of review scores, though I’m happy not to know about those situations — it’s kind of tough to be objective when you know someone is effectively holding a knife to the throat of your livelihood.
But let’s assume that the entire world has evolved beyond the need for game reviews, that people only read them for kicks — to confirm their assumptions and have their opinions corroborated — and even so, reviews still had a pretty good run. I know I certainly used to pore over magazines to look for high scores and unexpected praise. A great review score in EGM could reinforce my enthusiasm for an anticipated release or whet my appetite for some game I’d never heard of. And of course I figured anything that showed up on the cover of Nintendo Power had to be worth buying, which is how I ended up with Metal Storm (awesome!) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (d’oh).
But we can be less glib and reductive about this, too. I actually do think the games press — both large and small — has played a valuable role in changing the way people think about video games. Or rather, in making people think about video games. Certain I can credit my own heightened awareness of the medium and the mechanisms behind it to a string of excellent issues of Next Generation in the mid ’90s and, a few years later, some great pieces in EGM as the magazine reinvented itself into something richer and more substantial than a gallery of screen photos from Japan. Not that I minded the “galleries of screen photos from Japan” era; those early glimpses of games that sometimes made their way to the U.S. and sometimes didn’t were always interesting.
That spirit lives on today as the games press occasionally steps back from republishing one another’s regurgitated news bits to say, “Hey, maybe we can think about games in a different way.” Sometimes those efforts are very clumsy and embarrassing, it’s true. But sometimes they offer food for thought. Sometimes they open people’s eyes to other perspectives, other ways of thinking, other needs and concerns. They can fill people with the desire for games to aspire to be more, or for games to work more effectively, to be more ambitious.
They can also fill people with blind rage and deep distrust. The weekly “LOL games journalism” thread on NeoGAF is always fascinating, just to see how frequently people will complain about the same damn things. Every single week, as it turns out.
And fair enough; there’s some pretty terrible work in the world of games journalism. But those, I would say, are the tiniest exceptions to the rule; the games press just as often (if not moreso) provides great value. Even if you don’t care about reviews, think of all the great insights you’ve seen into your favorite developers or games or creative personalities through interviews and profiles. Games journalism has helped spread a better understanding of the challenges and processes and flaws and potential of the medium. Like everything, it has its share of crap, but at its best it can heighten your enjoyment of and appreciation for a favorite game.
Of course, a lot of the best writing has to come from small sites or independent bloggers. (Not all of it, but a lot of it.) Because great writing rarely pays the bills nearly as effectively as material crafted specifically to generate headline clicks. But I suppose that’s OK, too. Little acorns and great oaks and all of that.
Anyway — I think this trilogy of posts has been quite enough on this topic. Next time, a less navel-gazing topic. Maybe I’ll do the horse racing request. Or the Scott Sharkey one.