Good Night, Good Luck

Good Night, Good Luck
Can't Wait Till Tomorrow

Troy Goodfellow | 17 Jul 2007 04:32
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The majority of criticism directed toward gaming journalism focuses more on the symptoms rather than the disease. Yes, the gaming press relies too heavily on previews of coming attractions and mechanical reviews of blockbuster titles. It traffics in rumor portrayed as fact, speculation masked as analysis. But the type of writing many observers want requires the media to change its orientation; to change its focus; to change its tense.

Games journalists live in the future. There are institutional and cultural pressures that force the gaming media to emphasize what is yet to come, rather than what came before. This leads to "future bias," the tendency to only look forward, despite what could be learned by looking back. Game journalism becomes, in effect, a promotional arm of the industry at large, geared to publicize the next big thing.

To be fair, the gaming media is taking its cues from the entertainment media at large. In a world of teaser trailers, PR representatives and Entertainment Tonight, most film and TV reporters spend their time promoting or publicizing unreleased products. The entertainment press is irretrievably connected to that industry's publishing and PR machines; after all, Harrison Ford doesn't just stop by the Tonight Show to chat.

The gaming press' future bias is uniquely influential, however, because the enthusiast press has a near monopoly on sustained coverage of the industry. Where newspapers and general interest magazines produce wide-ranging commentary on movies and music on a daily basis, they have mostly ignored gaming. Unless the story deals with the exceptional or the sensational, most gaming coverage gets relegated to thumbnail reviews or the business page, which means the specialist, niche press has more authority than usual. Where moviegoers can rely on The New York Times to help them think about film, gamers are resigned to using websites awash in preview coverage and speculation.

But the emphasis on the future has its most contaminating effects in its most pedestrian forms. When given the opportunity to interview game designers or developers, reporters' questions almost exclusively focus on whatever the developer is currently working on. The important thing is the product on the way, after all. Writers and reporters often pass on the opportunity to question intelligent people about game design in general, the evolution of their careers or what lessons they might have learned from previous games in their portfolios. This, of course, reinforces many gamers' impression that the gaming press is merely an arm of the industry's marketing divisions, and, more dangerously, portrays developers as isolated from their own history, rather than part of a community.

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