Over the course of the last couple months, there's been a lot of talk in the media about the state of journalism. Most of that started due to the revelations that the Bush administration was paying journalists and pundits to push certain agendas. It continued when it became known that the very same administration has been paying actors to produce news, paying journalists to write propaganda, and paying Republican party members to pose as journalists. It was only a matter of time before someone in the gaming industry turned their eyes to gaming journalism and asked the question "is gaming journalism broken?"
In the recent Game Developer's Conference here in San Francisco last week, there was a very interesting session
basically allowing developers to rant and rage about their issues with the industry. Jason Della Rocca
, director of the IGDA
, briefly hinted at the fact that gaming journalism was broken. Of course, everyone on the panel had quite a mouthful to say, but for some reason, he just glossed over this point. Unfortunately, that's the point I was most interested in hearing more about.
So instead, I decided to take a close look at our industry and see exactly how it might be broken. As with any industry, there are problems. I myself have only been in this industry for approximately two years. So while I don't have nearly as much experience as the irreverant Greg Kasavin, I might have the unique perspective of a being new and fresh. I guess I should start by saying that I have come to have the utmost amount of respect for the editors here at Gamespot. I had no idea how difficult their job was until I started working here. I had been a long time patron of Gamespot before working here and I always thought to myself "It would be the best job in the world to play video games all day long and write about."
While I think all of our editors would agree that they absolutely love their jobs, there's a lot more to it than just playing games and writing about them. It takes a certain amount of integrity and strength of character to stay as objective as they do. After all, we all have the innate potential to become a little fanboyish at times. But somehow the GS crew manages to keep their fanboy tendencies out of their reviews and impressions. They approach each game with a fresh pair of eyes and that's something I'm not sure I would be able to do. You guys are lucky I don't write reviews and just write the occassional opinion
But is game journalism broken? I think we're much less broken than the rest of the media. However, there are a few points that need to be worked on. First of all, we're one of the few forms of journalism that have a very obvious effect on sales. If Gamespot, Gamespy, or IGN say a game sucks, chances are that game isn't going to sell too well. While you can think of it as "educating the consumer", I see the potential for it to take away a lot of choice from consumers. Granted, the games are expensive so you should get as much information as possible on a game before you buy it. But who's to say that just because we don't like a game that you won't like it?
Then there's the whole quantification issue. Maybe it's just me, but looking around GGD and System Wars (I know... not the best example) there are a lot of people who pay more attention to the score than they do the review. When Greg gave Metal Gear an 8.7
the community flipped out. Most of them didn't seem to care that he said it was a great game in his 4 page review (in more ways than one), all they cared about was the score. I understand the need to quantify these things, but to me, gaming sites might be doing the industry a disservice by putting such a strong emphasis on that number and not as much on the 4 pages
of review written about the game. While Gamespot editors will always tell you "read the review", visually on our page there's a lot of emphasis on the score. That's not just on Gamespot, that's on most other sites.
I have a lot more to say, but I've already written a fair amount. I'm going to end with one more point, though. Before I started working here, this was the only site I came to for information on games because they didn't pull any punches. I think the purpose of a gaming site like ours is to report on the industry. However, we also have an ethical responsibility to make sure that through our efforts we're adding to the industry in a positive way. Maybe it's by telling publishers they can't keep giving us the same crap and expecting us to swallow it. Maybe it's by educating users on exactly how hard the developers and publishers work to get a game good for you. But we have a moral imperative to make sure that through our efforts, the industry is better at the end of the day than it was at the beginning. While the rest of journalism has slowly decayed in to long-winded paid advertisements for one politician or another, gaming journalism on the whole hasn't devolved to that level. We're all still very independent voices speaking out about the industry which we all love. And I think that given all that, we're not nearly as broken as Jason Della Rocca may believe.