Experienced Points

Experienced Points
The Ebert of Videogames

Shamus Young | 30 Jul 2013 15:00
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But videogame journalism is mostly driven by the internet, and the internet is very different from the print world. Note that over the weekend, gaming journalist Marcus Beer appeared in a podcast where he publically sneered at indie developers Phil Fish and John Blow, calling them "tosspots" and "fucking hipsters". Fish responded with a bunch of name-calling of his own, suggesting that Beer kill himself. Then the rest of the internet joined in, sending hatemail to Fish, who responded by saying he was quitting games for good. It was a mean, ugly, and highly personal exchange and not the type of thing that ever took place in public media in the pre-internet days.

Before the internet, Beer's comments would have been filtered through an editor, who might have encouraged the man to show some maturity and professionalism in a public venue. Phil Fish would have probably have taken a day or two to consider his response, and it would have happened in the context of an interview with some neutral third party. The response from the public would have been delayed by a week or more as people wrote in letters, and the editor would have thrown away the ones from obviously crazy people. Beer would have been more measured, Fish's response would have been tempered by time and advice, and neither of them would have seen or read the death threats from random strangers.

But here on the net people responded to each other instantly, they responded directly to the other party, and they responded in public. Ebert and Rob Schneider famously had a "nasty" public dispute, although it was practically a make-out session compared to the exchange between Marcus Beer and Phil Fish. Ebert and Schneider were later able to reconcile. Somehow I don't think Beer and Fish will be sending flowers or buying each other a beer anytime soon.

My point is, this internet game is pretty raw. People aren't nice, there are no filters, and the audience generally isn't willing to pay for any of it. That's not a knock against gamers. Print publication is in decline and it's harder than ever to get people to pay for words. Anyone hoping to bring high-minded commentary to videogames needs to be a gifted writer like Ebert, plus they need to be a seasoned gamer, plus they need to have the patience and calm serenity of a Buddhist monk, plus they need to be willing to work in a field that doesn't offer a lot of money or job security. I'm not saying such a person can't exist. I am saying it might be a long wait.

And the question that really eats me is: Even if such a person showed up, would anyone actually read them? I don't just mean the public in general. I mean, would gamers read it? Does the gaming public want artsy ruminations and anecdote-driven analysis of intent and craft? Do people want to talk about kinesthetics, ludonarrative dissonance, narrative mechanics, gamification, and power creep? Or do they just want someone practical and numerically consistent when assigning review scores? I honestly don't know.

I share Spector's desire to see games taken more seriously and talked about more thoroughly. But we probably aren't going to see an Ebert anytime soon, and even if we did I'm afraid they might not find an audience.

Shamus Young has a blog, a book, a podcast, a let's play series, and he's willing to be the Ebert of videogames if the money is right.

An earlier version of this column misspelled Mr. Beer's name. That has since been fixed.

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