May 2008

I look at a few game journalism issues that almost feel through the cracks in May, including a game media firestorm around Headline News’ Glenn Beck, a dead rumor site written by a mysterious “Surfer Girl,” and an “Influencer Network” meant to subtly influence the influencers.

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For over two decades now, the R-Type series has been synonymous with a specific brand of mindless space shooter. In these games, strategy and planning aren’t as important as twitch reflexes and simply shooting everything that moves. It’s a formula that’s given the series a moderate amount of success in its niche through a half-dozen or so sequels. So it’s a bit surprising that R-Type Command throws out that formula and instead tries to build a typical turn-based strategy game on top of the R-Type universe. The result, less surprisingly, is a largely broken game that is almost entirely forgettable.

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Was it really just a few weeks ago that some corners of the mainstream media were warning about how Grand Theft Auto IV was training an entire generation of immoral killers? It seems like ancient history now that the video game coverage narrative has shifted over to Nintendo’s Wii Fit, the savior of a generation plagued by childhood obesity.

The game industry really couldn’t have asked for a better high-profile follow-up to the controversy-plagued Grand Theft Auto release. Nintendo’s personal-trainer-in-a-box flipped the tone of mainstream game coverage from moderately negative to moderately positive practically overnight. An Associated Press story made the change in tone explicit, noting that Wii Fit wasn’t targeting “the ‘Grand Theft Auto’ audience of boys and young men” and quoting an analyst as saying “I don’t think we even had the imagination a year ago that Wii Fit could be compared to Grand Theft Auto.”

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“Hello from Disney Israel”

“I just want to see if Abraham Lincoln can beat a pirogi.”

-The inimitable Bruce Webster, in Pittsburgh

Ohio University journalism student Meghan Ventura did an interview with me on video game journalism issues. She’s posted excerpts from the event on her blog. Check it out!

In a previous life, Stephen Totilo helped create Hogan Knows Best.


It may seem odd to think about it now, but before he became MTV News’ first full-time video game reporter, Totilo was one of the people behind the idea for the pro-wrestler-based reality show. After his departure from the project nearly three years ago, the VH1 series was a modest hit, running from 2005 to 2007.

Despite the allure of pro-wrestler-based reality TV, Totilo wasn’t destined to let his Columbia journalism degree go to waste. He parlayed brief positions at Newsweek and Brill’s Content into freelance game reporting gigs for GameSpy, IGN and The New York Times. Now, Totilo heads up a team that covers games on the MTV’s cable networks,, and MTV’s Multiplayer blog. PressSpotting talked with Totilo about his experience writing about games and what it means to be a game journalist today. Here’s some excerpts from our lengthy conversation:

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The game development website used my notes for its coverage ofthe Games for Health Conference:

On April 28, the front page story on the New York Times’ Arts section wasn’t about a new Broadway play or a hot new CD or even a blockbuster summer movie. It was a balanced, 1,100-word review of Grand Theft Auto IV that described the game as a “violent, intelligent, profane, endearing, obnoxious, sly, richly textured and thoroughly compelling work of cultural satire disguised as fun.”

The Times wasn’t alone. Kotaku’s Brian Crecente briefly returned to the Rocky Mountain News to write a major 2,000-word feature on his five days locked in a room with the game. Marc Saltzman compared it to “an interactive episode of The Sopranos” from the pages of USA Today. MSNBC noted in a subhead that it’s “a blast to play a criminal in a safe, consequence-free environment.”

As much as Grand Theft Auto IV is being hailed as a revolution in gaming, its release also seems to herald a revolution in mainstream coverage of gaming itself.

(full article)