The Rest of the Story

The Rest of the Story
Game Journalists on Game Journalism

Michael Zenke | 14 Nov 2006 07:00
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"Game journalism" has been a murky term ever since it became a buzzword a couple years ago. While some critics debate whether or not the people who report on games are journalists at all, a number of individuals have been working to improve the space in which they work. I had the pleasure of speaking to 10 such people, to ask them what they felt about issues ranging from the definition of game journalism to the dense corruption that permeates the videogame industry.

Here, then, are the words of Brandon Sheffield, Brian Crecente, Chris Grant, Chris Kohler, Chris Morris, David Thomas, Frank Cifaldi, Greg Kasavin, Luke Smith and Simon Carless.

The Escapist: Briefly, what do you think it means to be a game journalist?

Chris Kohler: It means you somehow managed to scam one of the best jobs ever.

Frank Cifaldi: I think the more important question here is what it means to be a journalist; the "game" part is secondary, it's merely a specialized form. Ideally, a journalist is someone who is able to acquire facts, compile them and then present them to the reader in a clear, definitive, objective way. The role of a journalist is to relay information; the role of a good journalist is to make this information interesting without showing personal bias (or, in many cases, hiding it really damned well).

David Thomas: I used to care a lot about that question. But I realize, now that you're asking it, it's sort of an easy one. ... Journalism, in general, has turned into this fresh-faced hucksterism where "journalists" pretend to be interested in getting the story when they really care more about winning some prize or looking good on their interview on Nightline. The whole planet has gone mad when we think of people like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter as journalists. Even Thomas Friedman, as smart as he is, is just a wag. ... The trouble with game journalism is that most often we are neither comforters nor afflicters. We just create a marketing echo chamber that amplifies whatever the industry happens to want us to say.

TE: Many game journalists believe there are substantial problems with the way game news is reported. What's the biggest problem in game journalism today?

Simon Carless: I'm tremendously fed up with 'game journalism' being in some way tarred with a brush that implies it's sick, unwell, or in some way broken. Lots of people write about games - in the same way that lots of people write about music, or film, or other creative endeavors. And if you look at the game media compared to much of the extremely popular celebrity press right now (US Weekly, Star?), it's a model of fairness and restraint. Sure, there are issues. But it's the excessive and twisted introspection that is doing us harm. Let's just write good copy, instead of picking at why we aren't.

Luke Smith: The biggest problem isn't necessarily the way information is reported, per se. Oftentimes "reports" are simply regurgitations of information that we're sent, instead of information we pursued. The problem, as I see it, is often how "news" editors are treated by PR - more often than not it seems like we're looked at as just another part of a PR plan - i.e., they send us information and we post it. It can be a very one-sided relationship. Even worse, gamers get used to that as the "norm," so "game journalism" is reduced to the aforementioned regurgitation. I think that's why we've seen the rise of blogs like Kotaku and Joystiq who report on the reports and infuse personality into their reports - I think, in some cases, gamers want that, and it can sort of alleviate some of the problems of PR-regurgitation.

Brian Crecente: I think there needs to be refocused attention placed on having a journalism background. That doesn't mean that the writers need to be trained journalists, but someone involved in the process of writing, editing and printing a particular story should be.

Brandon Sheffield: I think the fact that we're not teaching the skeptical audience about our industry is the biggest failing. My mother recently said to me, "You don't associate with those games about raping people, do you?" I remarked that there were no such games for general consumption, and she said, "You know, the one where the object is to rape a Native American?" Turns out, some news source told my mother about the existence of Custer's Revenge, which was released for the Atari 2600 in extremely limited quantities, before quality controls even existed. My mother doesn't know what an Atari 2600 is, but she's heard of the "Indian raping game." That tells me we're letting the pundits do the reporting for us.

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