Perhaps sawing the branch I'm sitting on isn't the wisest idea I've ever had, but this has been nagging me long before I started writing about gaming. I think it's about time we got into this.
Why Gaming is Bad for Journalism
Gaming Journalism came on to the scene with Nintendo Power. A fantastic magazine publication by Nintendo which most of us remember very fondly. To Nintendo this was just good marketing, but as gaming gained in popularity, writing about it became a natural extension of writing about other media such as music, sports and movies.
And yet, writing about gaming is much different than writing about passive entertainment. A movie critic can sit down and watch a 90 minute movie, take some notes and bang out a review. Some movies might be longer or shorter, but the range is more or less fixed.
With games, there's effort that needs to be put forth. Not only are most games many times longer than movies, but they often require new skills to be developed and sharpened in order to succeed.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Try to imagine making your living as a game reviewer. Play games all day and then write about them. Sounds pretty sweet, right? Well, now imagine that the games you're asked to review aren't always the ones you're excited about. Imagine needing to cover several games every week just to make ends meet.
Just go ahead and try to enjoy a Fallout game if you're required to finish it in 20 hours of your own time. You can't, because that's not how the game was really meant to be played. As such, game reviewers will often leave with an impression of games that is heavily influenced by it being a job.
Would you rather review a challenging 100 hour game with a ton of collectibles, unlockables and multiple endings or a five hour walking simulator with a bunch of loose plot threads you can intellectually evaluate for your audience? You get paid the same for either, so how difficult do you want to make your job?
Reviews are Useless, but Entertaining
In the early days of game reviews, there was merit to obtaining information regarding game quality. This was before the Internet took off and if you wanted to know how good a game is you only had a few options. Read a 3rd party review or judge for yourself based on the cover art.
Today we live in a world where other people's opinions on any given subject are easier to come by than our own. And if you're the kind of person who likes to think for themselves, Let's Play videos and demos are readily available. Steam will even let you return games if you dislike them, so there's no reason you can't try something for yourself if you want.
Like our U.S. elections, game reviews are now just relegated to entertainment. Look at Yahtzee, for example. The guy clearly loves playing games and talking about it, yet 99% of his videos are just pointing out personal gripes. He's very entertaining, but he can't get away from making videos just ranting about faults and grievances. It's his schtick now and his audience expects it.
What Kind of Games do Reviewers Like?
With this in mind, it's no surprise that our gaming scene seems so vastly different for someone looking from the outside in. Going by game reviews alone, you would think that every good game is short, overly accessible and teeming with hidden meanings and cultural life lessons.
Gaming journalism often misses the most crucial aspect of gaming. It misses the idea that learning new skills is fun and usually not a chore to fans of gaming. For gamers, facing a challenge isn't met with sighs of "great, now I have to work late". Instead, most of us see it as an opportunity to improve and overcome. This variance of perspective greatly diminishes the value of opinions presented by people with this job-centric mindset.
We even have critics now that are so lazy as to only base their opinion on clips from YouTube instead of firsthand experience. Someone once said that "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture" and I think that applies here as well.
What Do You Guys Think?
Do you still decide which games to get based on other people's professional opinions? Do you watch/read reviews primarily for entertainment? Let me know in the comments below.
Are there some awesome reviewers out there whose opinions you will defend to the death? I'd love to know who they are. Personally, I'm a big fan of Super Bunnyhop. He does some really in depth analysis of the games he likes and generally sports the kind of attention to detail I wish other publications held themselves to.
That's it for today. See you next time!