My first serious experience with videogame journalism was a volunteer gig for a certain Macintosh-centered gaming website. The writing I did there consisted mostly of finding new and innovative ways to write under big bold headings, like Graphics and Music/Sound, and it took me about four years of faithfully sticking to The Format before an article about, well, game journalism made me realize there were other ways to write about games. Who knew there was a way to write something that didn't sound like it belonged in Consumer Reports?
It's been four years since I got turned on to interesting game writing, which means it has been eight years since I started in this business, and the question on everyone's lips right now is "Are we there yet?" Well, we're somewhere.
Regardless of what you or I think of the last eight years or so, of so-called New Games Journalism and Ludology and The Escapist, I think we could all agree we're a ways away from the Consumer Reports days, and that's a pretty good place to be.
No doubt there are plenty of writers out there who cut their teeth on the same mechanical kind of work I did. Plenty of our best-established gaming news outlets still rely on reviews with the big bold headings and an objective, dispassionate voice. It's the status quo for a reason: There is a large body of people out there who read game writing because they want to know what games they should buy, and reading about how stunning the graphics are, or more likely, about ray-traced, high-polycount inverse-kinematic character models, is really enough to tell them how to spend their money. When faced with questions like whether or not games are art, the average reader will most likely wonder why anyone cares. This has its own appeal, of course; whether we think of videogames as an artistic medium or not, that doesn't stop us from being able to think about evaluating it on some kind of objective scale.
However, as someone who has done that sort of work for far too long, I can say a little bit of me died every time I was compelled to give a game a decent review when it just wasn't fun. Enter the reluctant New Games Journalists, writers who played fast and loose with the "rules" of game writing out of an allergic reaction to the objective product review.
I spent an evening with the (infamous/infamous blowhard) Tim Rogers once. Along with Rogers and me were: a Tim Rogers fanboy, a guitarist named Hardpuncher, a secret red-light district in Tokyo, homeless people, new running shoes and King of Fighters: Maximum Impact 2 on a pair of delicious Hori Real Arcade Pro arcade sticks.
That's pretty much the perfect recipe for a New Games Journalism article. The writing is characterized by the author's role in the story. According to the philosophy, to try to separate the writer from the writing is not to make an objective document; rather, it is to preserve our concept of "objectivity," namely, reducing a videogame to its component bold headings.