The Real ABC’s of Game Journalism
A certain foul human being named “George” wrote an article at http://www.ruthlessreviews.com/20998/abcs-game-journalism/ that’s been making the rounds lately. In “The ABCs of Game Journalism,” George goes into a lengthy diatribe on all of the many ways in which that mean bully that is the gaming industry mistreated him and how gosh darn it, it’s hard out there for a dude these days.
George is full of shit. George’s list is a catalogue of all of the bitterness built up in George’s heart, and isn’t a remotely realistic picture of anything going on in the gaming industry on any consistent level. So what I’m going to do is fix George’s list for him, and show how a lot of people out there are doing great work on a daily basis in the gaming industry. Along the way, I’m going to point out how outrageously wrong George is in nearly every way. George’s cynicism and bitterness can go fuck themselves.
A is for Activity. Sites like Joystiq, Kotaku, Eurogamer, Giant Bomb, and IGN all make a living producing game related content. It turns out that the production of content is a time consuming thing, and that in order to be successful in that endeavor, constant, regular readers need to be maintained. As a result, a frankly staggering amount of features, reviews, interviews, and preview content get posted at regular intervals throughout the day in order to ensure that when a reader visits the site, they always find something interesting to look at, thus keeping the whole machine running.
B is for Big Cities, because human beings tend to congregate together into communities in order to more easily facilitate group activity. It turns out that being a shut in who refuses to communicate by any nondigital means isn’t conducive to a prosperous career; people want to meet each other. Human connection is invaluable and helps you develop meaningful friendships and creative relationships. Being located nearby to the people to whom you are making these connections is a large benefit, hence, concentrations of game-related folk tend to crop up in certain areas.
That said, it’s also completely untrue that you need to move to a certain area in order to create meaningful content in the game industry. Many game journalists like Polygon’s Ben Kuchera, much of the Joystiq crew, Rock Paper Shotgun’s Cara Ellison, Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek, US Gamer’s Cassandra Khaw and countless others live in locations scattered across the US and the world, many of which are extremely affordable cities. I generally have no doubt that if my work was good enough and I was persistent enough, I could make a living anywhere.
C is for Conversation, which is what occurs naturally when civil, intelligent human beings talk to each other in reasonable ways about topics of mutual interest. The Internet enables dialog in previously impossible venues, and so naturally, discussions occur when people engage with material that matters to them. Again, something very evident to anyone who doesn’t spend all day being overly antagonistic.
D is for Development, which is the arduous, soul-draining, life consuming, but ultimately (in the good cases) rewarding process through which the people who make video games pour years of their life into products in order for consumers to be able to enjoy them, think about them, and remember them.
Many people have used games writing as a segue into game development, such as Bastion’s Greg Kasavin or Gunpoint’s Tom Francis, but many more take their career as writers seriously as a lifelong investment. Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann has made it abundantly clear on many occasions that he’s a man who produces games content, not games themselves, much like his colleague Patrick Klepek. Other writers and content like Nathan Meunier, Andrew Groen, and Travis Gafford have made extensive livings covering topics that matter to them in very in depth ways, be it Nathan’s focus on creating guides to entering games writing, Andrew’s commitment to compelling eSports long form pieces, or Travis’s exhaustive eSports interview collection. People who want to write about games for a living permanently exist, and it’s insanity to claim that the game writing business exists only as a stepping stone on the way to making games.
E is for Editor, or the person who works their ass off to make it so that all of the sites we love to read don’t put out unfiltered, unedited content that reads like garbage. Anyone who writes without an editor may as well be writing without eyes, a fact for which most of the work on this blog stands as a shining testament. Creative work cannot be properly generated without criticism and editing, and editors provide the much needed filter of judgment and discernment that keeps sites from becoming unbearable content fire hoses. On top of that, they act as general custodians and caretakers of a site’s content environment, granting a general sense of cohesion and vision to the entire endeavor.
F is for Fifteen, the average age of someone who has no idea how the hell to write anything decent and lacks the discipline and life experience necessary to produce usable content on a consistent basis while developing personal and business connections necessary to succeed in any job, let alone games writing. There are plenty of talented fifteen year olds out there writing great stuff, they just need more time to hone their skills because, well, they’re fifteen fucking years old. If these people are a threat to you, you’re not trying hard enough. Sorry.
G is for Girl at the Gamestop, who probably has been playing games every bit as long as you have but doesn’t talk about it because she’s had too much experience with getting shouted down and questioned by manchildren like the original article’s author. Game journalism resonates with this person because it provides an avenue for meaningful discussion that she’s never had in any game because of belligerent shitheels spouting sexism and lewd profanity at her every five minutes.
What she certainly doesn’t represent is dumbing down of anything. Games of a level of unfathomable complexity that we could have only dreamed of in the 1980s are coming out in droves. Go play Crusader Kings II, Dwarf Fortress, Dota 2, Europa Universalis IV, or any of a million fighting games and tell me that things have been universally “casualized” across the board. If anything, we’re experiencing a renaissance of depth and complexity the likes of which hasn’t been seen in years.
Beyond that, creating a broad depth of potential experiences, even “casual” ones, is only beneficial and enables more people to acquire greater, broader tastes as they become more integrated into the gaming environment. The first video game I ever owned was a game about moving blocks into holes to create lines. It doesn’t get much more “casual” than that. It’s about creating a broad range of products.
H is for Hobbyist, meaning someone who does something for fun because it’s interesting and engaging to them, Many people who play games for hobby think it’d be great to write about them for a living, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Not everyone who loves playing games will love writing about them. The moral of the story is to write first and expect to make a career out of it later. If it’s something you love doing regardless of pay, it’s not going to become horrible morale crushing labor down the road. That’s not to say it will be easy, but it’ll be worth it. If you don’t like it, don’t do it. I really shouldn’t have to say these kinds of things, but here we are.
I is for Indie Games, the natural result of the deliverance of game development tools to a much wider audience. They’ve delivered a huge variety of experiences as a result of the much broader set of people that can develop them, ranging from bold storytelling experiences (Gone Home, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons) to extremely precise and effective mechanical games (Hotline Miami, Super Meat Boy, Spelunky, Mark of the Ninja) and beyond. Smaller teams, more tightly conceived ideas, and a lack of publisher pressure and economic oversight mean that these games have the ability to defy convention and take greater risks than AAA projects. As a result, some of the most interesting and engaging experiences of the last several years have been indie titles, which make up in creativity what they perhaps lack in sheer production value.
J is for Justice, in this instance of the social variety. It represents the constant struggle oppressed groups face on a daily basis when it comes to getting equal representation, acknowledgement, and treatment within the gaming industry and beyond. As a movement, the push for social justice is slowly gaining traction within the gaming world, leading to games with a variety of messages gaining prominence, as well as a greater representation of various groups in games and game development.
However, that inequality problem is far from fixed, and it is never more evident than when reading any of a countless number comments and posts by disenfranchised manchildren, who take to their forum of choice to bawl about how they’re expected to give even the slightest amount of fucks about the actual meaningful content of their experiences. These complaints about “social justice warriors” ruining their good time are the whining, screaming death throes of a vile and repulsive culture, and we’re all better off for beginning jettison it like the diseased limb of the artform and culture that it is.
K is for Keep Buggering On, the only real option when faced with bleak situations. The gaming industry can suck. A lot. But when confronted with this challenge, someone who truly believes in what they’re doing and their desire to break into that industry doesn’t have to let the weight of it all crush them.
There are a lot of support networks out there for those with depression (like yours truly) and while it’s difficult to take the first step in that regard, it’s extremely important to know that you are not alone in the world or the industry. Like everything worth doing, getting going in this field isn’t easy, and it takes persistence and maybe an unhealthy degree of stubbornness. In the end, though, I feel strongly that with enough effort, it’s possible to make a living doing something that matters to you.
L is for Ludonarrative Dissonance, a rather cleverly devised term created to quickly and easily describe what is often a core issue when it comes to narrative development in games, that is, a tension between narrative actions and gameplay ones. It, like all linguistic terms, was devised to meet a certain authorial need, and it’s pretty much sheer lunacy to try to claim that a term with an extremely specific and directly internally described meaning is somehow superfluous or contrived. It means dissonance between gameplay and story. It’s right there in the term. Come on, guys.
M is for Manchild, or the kind of people that gaming industry is rapidly excising like the cancerous tumor they are. It’s the kind of person who is upset about social progress invading their brainless violence parade, or about the fact that it takes a little bit of social grace in order to make progress in this (or any) industry. Basically, it refers to the ilk of the author of the article to which this is a response.
N is for Newgrounds.com, a place which once upon a time (and to a lesser degree, currently) was a fascinating petrie dish of independent game development. There’s a lot of junk on Newgrounds, but a lot of gold, too. Many of the people who made flash based games on Newgrounds and similar sites moved on to making greater projects and selling them, because improving at your craft and hopefully making a living doing it is sort of the entire aim of the creative universe. Without Newgrounds we wouldn’t have Castle Crashers, for god’s sake, and a world without Castle Crashers isn’t one I want to live in.
O is for Objectivity, which is what the entire games press is dependent upon maintaining in order to preserve the credibility that keeps people coming to their sites. Credibility means readers means a continued existence. The ludicrous assertion that the entire games press is somehow in the pocket of the developers and publishers solely because they receive advanced copies and previews of games is insane, as Kotaku’s Jason Schreier points out in an incisively well-argued explanation of the process on NeoGAF. He explains this all better than I could ever hope to.
P is for Polygon.com, a central place to find some of the best written, presented, and argued pieces of long form reporting and opinion in the industry. Polygon has a dedication to being more than just a simple consumer guide, and the actual criticism that Polygon’s reviews present is sometimes all too rare in the industry.
Polygon’s Editor-at-Large Chris Plante is one of the people responsible for the high level of quality of Polygon’s written and video work, and his piece questioning the role of violence in Bioshock Infinite was a wonderful look at the reasons why AAA gaming has flaws in its presentation due to certain studio expectations that influence the way stories interact with gameplay. Claiming that the piece somehow tore down an undisputed classic is a bizarrely worshipful assertion of the AAA industry, especially in an article like the one I’m responding to, where the author had just finished complaining about editors seemingly being in the pocket of exactly the type of interest Chris Plante is questioning.
Polygon’s features editor Russ Pitts is the man at the helm of what I personally believe to be Polygon’s strongest suit: the incredibly well researched and presented features, discussing topics ranging across the entire industry. Just one look at http://www.polygon.com/features turns up an endless buffet of deep, interesting examinations of virtually every topic imaginable in the industry, and Russ Pitts is the man in charge of gathering, editing, and organizing all of that content. He’s no slouch in the writing department either, generating fascinating features of his own and wonderful reviews like his siege on The Castle Doctrine.
Q is for Questions You Need to Ask Yourself: Do I really care about games? Will I never shut up about them, even if I’m not being paid? Am I willing to put up with crappy work situations for a while because I’m going to be writing about this crap anyway so I might as well try to make a career out of it? Do I think games actually matter, and are they things worth writing about? If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then you probably don’t need me to tell you to keep on keeping on with the words writing thing.
R is for Rogers, Tim, an influential writer and a champion of the idea that, gee whiz, maybe criticism can involve importing the author’s own personal experiences into the lens of the review. People are informed by experience. Criticism is the output of those experiences and opinions mixed with art. Tim Rogers knows a hell of a lot about video games, and he imports that knowledge along with his experience in order to write some of the best long form criticism pieces around. His article on Kotaku about some of his most time consuming games of 2013 is probably my favorite list article about the previous year, and reading his opinion about Zelda there really shows how much passion and knowledge he has for what makes a game tick. As it happens, games writing can be more than just telling you what to buy, and Tim Rogers is living proof of that.
S is for Sexism. Shockingly, around half of the human race is female! Yet despite this fact, there is an overwhelming slant against female representation in gaming, with almost no decent female protagonists in mainstream games and a severe lack of games with a uniquely female perspective. On top of that, we make it worse by throwing in oversexualized women everywhere, making it nearly impossible for women to play games without being in some way alienated. Then, to top it all off, some of us then have the unbelievable hubris of asking women why they aren’t trying harder to represent themselves in games!
Writers, then, have started to actually write about things that matter in recent years, and as a result our industry’s rampant, institutionalized sexism has come into the light in a deservedly harsh way. Again, remember that bit I said about half the world being women. Sexism hurts us all and prevents perspectives from getting made into stories. Full stop.
T is for Thesaurus, a writing tool used to find synonyms in order to make your sentences less horrible. Game journalism in particular loves the thesaurus because gaming sites have an audience that needs to be constantly engaged in order to keep paying attention, and in fact, games writing can’t afford to be overly wordy for exactly this reason.
Thinking that editors of sites are in love with overly wordy, flowery pieces is insanity and shows a lack of any real interaction with an editor who spends all day viciously slashing unnecessary words out of articles like Jason Voorhees with a chainsaw. Say it with me: Editors hate unnecessary words. Copy editors exist to dismember unnecessarily wordy sentences. Writers love to embellish and need editors to prevent them from flying off into enormous, wordy tangents. Gaming sites are run by editors. QED.
U is for Unbelievable Internal Contradictions, which is all that came to mind when I saw that the original article I’m lambasting wrote one paragraph about a lack of objectivity in games writing and then not seven paragraphs later proceeded to complain about too much objectivity and detachment. I can’t even. The lens of personal experience is important. See everything I wrote in the O section above. Jesus Christ.
V is for Venture Capital, which…you sort of need to start a business? If you want to start something, get some capital, I guess. I’m not really sure what the point of this one in the original article was. I think he had trouble coming up with a word that started with V. In an article about Video games. I don’t know, guys.
W is for Word Count, which I don’t think either the original author or myself can rightfully say anything insightful about after writing these monstrous articles. Basically, have a sense of discernment about what you’re writing, and ask yourself if everything you’re writing is something you need. Do it before you make your editor do it. Do as I say, not as I do.
X is for X-Rated, which the original author used as a chance to get mad about women again, apparently? Let me fix that. There are a lot of great women out there, some of whom are making adult content (like the amazing Christine Love’s next game, Ladykiller in a Bind) and some of whom are writing about adult content (like the ever-insightful Cara Ellison in her S.EXE column at Rock, Paper, Shotgun) Go look at their work. It’s amazing.
As for the Anita Sarkeesian thing, I’m so very sorry if what she’s saying makes you angry for some reason. Maybe next time, try to conjure some actual arguments against it instead of just claiming she’s some kind of charlatan harlot because she dared to criticize your favorite art form without having spent two decades wholly immersed in it to the point of total social exclusion. Maybe it’s because the medium has an enormous amount of hostility towards her gender baked into nearly every product that’s come out of it in the last three decades?
If you can’t tell, I’m running out of even vaguely civil things to say about the original article, so here I’m just pointing at things that are good instead. Can you really blame me?
Y is for Youtube, which is where a huge content renaissance is taking place in the gaming industry. The individual gamer has never had more ability to reach an audience with content, and nothing demonstrates that more than the vast popularity of Let’s Plays as a genre as well as more tightly edited comedy content like Two Best Friends Play or Bro Team, and editorial content like what TotalBiscuit produces. All of these show that video content can be driven by personalities, knowledge, skillful criticism, or a combination of all three, and that you don’t have to be an expert to make content that people love. And as long as you’re doing that, and you like doing it, then don’t let the angry, small people get you down.
Z is for Zilch, which is to say, the amount of progress you’ll make in any industry by being a cynical, dismissive, anti-social ass who clings to tired, old prejudices and tries to beat people over the head with them. The gaming industry is no different. Here, like anywhere else, you have to work with people in order to move forward. People don’t bite. Most of them are alright if you get to know them. Video games are a fundamentally human exercise. Only in meaningfully understanding and interacting with other people instead of screaming into a misogynist, ignorant echo chamber can anything in that field be accomplished. It’s called being a decent human being. Try it sometime, George.