PressSpotting: The May Round-Up

Our columnist looks at game-news headlines this month, including Headline News' Glenn Beck, Donna Mei-Ling Park, and the mysterious Surfer Girl.

While this column usually tries to look at the broader issues and personalities in the game journalism world, there are plenty of smaller issues swirling around that don't necessarily warrant a full column of their own. The PressSpotting Round-Up will take a quick look at some of these issues on a periodic basis.

You hate us... you really hate us!
It's not too often that a whole category of "game journalists" gets specific attention from the mainstream media, but it did happened earlier this month when conservative Headline News commentator Glenn Beck called all video game bloggers "losers.". The dismissive tone continued on Beck's radio show, where he stereotypically maligned bloggers, and all gamers, in fact, as reclusive shut-ins living in their parents' basements.

This wasn't an unprovoked attack, mind you. Beck was reacting to a host of blog posts that took him to task for an on-air tirade against Grand Theft Auto IV, which included commentary from the game press' favorite lightning rod, Florida attorney Jack Thompson.

What's interesting is not so much the defensive, schoolyard tone of Beck's comments, but more the fact that he felt the need to address the thoughts and feelings of these game blogger "losers" at all. Beck can claim all he wants that he "could care less about video games," but by merely mentioning the blogger reaction on his show, Beck showed that the chatter has entered his consciousness and, moreover, that he feels it's worth a portion of his limited airtime to address. As with the massive online reaction to Fox News' Mass Effect controversy, this episode shows that the online games press can get attention when it acts with a unified voice to decry the worst offenses of mainstream media portrayal of games.

R.I.P. Surfer Girl With the recent shuttering of popular rumor blog Surfer Girl Reviews Star Wars, it seems like a good time to see if any of her rumors actually ended up being, you know, true. Fortunately, a poster over at NeoGAF has saved us all a lot of effort by compiling a comprehensive, sourced list of Surfer Girl's rumors and their various truth statuses.

Thus far, Surfer Girl's record stands at 33 "true" rumors, 21 "partially true" rumors and 16 "false" rumors; a pretty good record as far as rumor-mongering goes, and one that seems to show that the mysterious author behind the site had access to some line of insider information. That said, her confirmed record is dwarfed by the nearly 200 rumors that are still listed as "unconfirmed," including some dating all the way back to September 2007. This discrepancy highlights the real trick to being a successful rumor-monger: namely, predicting stuff that will only be proven right or wrong far, far in the future. Besides coming off as amazingly forward-looking at the time of the prediction, this strategy has the added bonus of allowing people to forget all about the prediction if and when it's eventually proven wrong. It's win-win!

Qore Competencies
Sony made a bit of a ripple earlier this month with a trademark registration for Qore, a service that will supposedly be "providing interactive online magazine and entertainment services in the field of video games" according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The posting would seem to suggest that Sony is planning to follow the lead of the Wii's Nintendo Channel, using the PS3's online functionality to get their corporate message directly in front of the gamers that want it.

These direct, online channels seem like a natural evolution of the "official" system magazines, which have been getting progressively more independent under the auspices of Future publishing and also less relevant as the Internet becomes the de facto source of gaming news. From the console makers' perspectives, these channels must also seem like a good way to do an end run around the video game press, which is supposed to act as an informed, unbiased intermediary between the console-makers and the gamers themselves. Still, I don't think the traditional games press should be too worried about becoming obsolete in light of this direct communication. Readers are inherently skeptical of "news" that comes directly from a company mouthpiece. Despite the credibility hammering the games press has taken in recent years, I still have to believe they have more cachet than the public relations arms of the console makers themselves. Comparatively Unimportant Certain corners of the internet were up in arms this month when a GameTrailers video that was supposed to compare the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of GRID mistakenly showed only the PS3 version of the game. GameTrailers quickly fixed and apologized for the embarrassing gaffe, but the controversy highlights an inherent problem with these comparisons: their comparative irrelevance. When a site like EuroGamer reveals that the Xbox 360 version of Grand Theft Auto IV runs roughly five frames per second faster than the PS3 version, what exactly does it accomplish? Do these five frames a second severely impact the enjoyment of one or the other version of the game? Is this a crucial piece of information for the busy consumer? Or do comparison pieces like this merely feed the myopic fanboy wars that keep game journalism caught in an endless loop of navel-gazing instead of important social criticism? My vote goes for the last option. Undue Influencer Network? In my years covering game journalism, I've heard plenty of stories about game publishers trying to influence the press with freebies and presents, but I don't think I've seen any such program that was quite as bold and bald-faced as the Alone in the Dark Influencer Network set up to promote Atari's new game. As the Rocket XL PR site explains, sites that are part of the "influencer network" can earn chances to win Atari prizes just by posting new photos, videos or other assets for the game on their site. Just throwing up those photos once isn't enough either--the site explains that "the more features/posts created, the more entries to win the prizes." The overall message seems to be: Editorial independence be damned! If you want that Atari arcade cabinet, you'd better keep hyping up our game with multiple features! Chop chop! This Month's Must-Reads Gamasutra featured an excellent editorial about games publishers' myopic focus on their Metacritic average, a score the author says is "not a valid measure because it is indicative of neither quality or sales." A blog post from an independent developer shows exactly how this focus on review scores can distract a producer: "Armed with the knowledge that higher review scores meant more money for them, game producers were thus encouraged to identify the elements that reviewers seemed to most notice and most like � detailed graphics, scripted set piece battles, 'robust' online multiplayer, 'player choice,' and more, more of everything." Also worth a read: Tom Chick's thorough account of how a harmless anecdote about Matt Damon's relationship with video games became twisted beyond all recognition when it went through the game journalism wringer. Quote of the Moment "And Charlie learned the final lesson/In his hackery descension/The more you cover and the less you play,/The more you earn and the less you pay." -A poem on the vagaries of game journalism by self-described "youngish game writer" Simon Parkin Quote of the Moment #2 "As a host for the Electric Playground, I deal with doubt constantly. The fact that I'm a female on TV is apparently reason enough for people to assume that I'm a bimbo with a microphone. Sometimes, they go so far as to imply that my interviews are scripted. Ugh. The predictability of these assumptions sickens me." -Donna Mei-Ling Park, cohost of the Electric Playground, comments in the latest issue of Game Informer on the stereotypes that female game journalists have to confront, especially on TV Kyle Orland is a freelance journalist specializing in video games and based out of Laurel, MD. He's written for a variety of outlets, as detailed on his personal site. Questions? Comments? Story ideas? Bitter invective? Send it to Kyle.

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