Playing Catch Up

Just because I haven’t been writing for the past two weeks doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. Here’s a big pile of stuff that caught my eye.

  • You can all stop telling me about Something Awful’s Five Worst Video Game Articles of 2005 (part 2). I have seen it and I have read it. While I agree with his #4 and #5 picks (I’ve discussed the dangers of fanboyism and preview bias on this very site) I can’t say I fully agree with the top three.

    I’ll be the first to admit that Kieron Gillen and Tim Rogers can be pretty annoying. Their indirect style of reviewing isn’t for everyone. Most readers probably can’t read it for three paragraphs before screaming for the writer to “just get over yourself and write the fucking review of the fucking videogame,” as the Something Awful author puts it. That’s understandable.

    But the kind of straightforward, by-the-nubmers reviews that the author seems to be clamoring for have been around for decades. And thanks to the Internet, there are hundreds and hundreds of places to go for a basic ‘is-it-any-good’ review. If you just want to know how well made the game is, how pretty the graphics are, how responsive the controls are, you don’t have to look very hard to find it. In fact you’d have to look pretty hard to not find it on a lot of sites.

    People who bellyache about “New Games Journalism” should realize that not everyone enjoys reading the same things you do. What seems self-indulgent to you might make someone else look at a game or an experience in a different way. What seems incomrehensible and pretentious to you might be interesting and thought-provoking to someone else. The weird, freeform stuff isn’t going to replace your precious reviews that discuss the difference in polygon counts between sequels — it will only supplement it.

    I, for one, am just glad that the game writing space has expanded to include both 150 word reviews in Maxim and rambling eight-page epics about Animal Crossing. The audiences for the former probably won’t much like the latter but, until the past few years, the audience for the latter had precious little to read.

  • Aaron McKenna over at TG Daily (motto: “We’re the EXTREME NEWS SECTION of Tom’s Hardware Guide) has an article on the pointlessness of video game journalism. He trots out a selection from the by now well-worn list of problems — previews are too fawning, reviews are formulaic, writers don’t want to piss of PR contacts, magazines need to grow up — and declares summary judgement against most of the industry without too much in the way of specific evidence (not that it’s hard to find).

    While I agree with most of what he says, I can’t help but feel this is too myopic a view of the game journalism industry — all the negatives with none of the positives. While I’ve seen these problems and others get worse since I started this site, I’ve also seen game magazines attempting to grow with their audiences, thoughtful game critiquing finding a growing audience on the Internet, and at least a few journalists who are tired of playing ball with the PR companies.

    Am I getting soft in my old age? Just more realistic? Too mired in the world lucrative world of freelancing that I can’t see the crushing problems hampering our industry? Too damn introspective?

    Probably that last one.

  • My hometown paper, The Washington Post (which some say has supplanted the New York Times as the “Paper of Record” in this country) (for what it’s worth) has been cranking up the game coverage lately. First a highly opinionated news story from Jose Antonio Vargas takes restriction-happy legislators to task. Then an Op-Ed columnist highlights the beneficial side of playing games with his 11-year-old son. Then, just last Friday, they move the freelance game reviews from the backwater of the Sunday Biz/Tech section to the slightly more appropriate backwater of the Weekend section, along with the movie reviews. Another sign of games’ growing acceptance in the mainstream, or just another ultra-liberal far-left paper that’s out-of-step with the desires of true, freedom loving Americans? We report… you decide (Actually, we decide. It’s the first one).
  • G4 continues its slide away from a video game focus, quietly cancelng two game focused shows to make room for teh Trek! The concensus seems to be that these shows were bad, so it’s no great loss, but they were video game shows on a video game network, so their loss is important. At this point I’m willing to say that most of what G4 does isn’t very important. New episodes of Icons would be nice, though.
  • Clive Thompson’s stuff is almost always good, but this piece on the last days of Asheron’s Call 2 is really good. Thompson really establishes a sense of place through the writing but, what’s more, he makes the reader understand why flipping a switch on a server bank really matters to so many people. Articles like this should be studied in museums.
  • MSNBC had a respectfully confrontational interview with the authors of Smartbomb. The interviewer makes it pretty apparent that a lot of the book’s arguments didn’t make sense to him, and that you young whippersnappers don’t know how much better things were back in my day. Heather and Aaron do a good job of defending their points, and of implying that the interviewer is an out-of-touch old fuddy-duddy who should eat his strained peas before changing his adult diaper. An excellent read.
  • Game blogging is getting so big that the Weblogs Inc. network is starting a sub-network solely devoted to gaming. Blogs devoted to the PSP, DS and Xbox 360 as well as World of Warcraft have been going like gangbusters, according to Weblogs Inc.’s Jason Calacanis, and he’s considering acquiring exisiting gaming blogs for his new media empire. Any up and coming blogs want to cash in? 4 Color Rebellion… I’m looking in your general direction.
  • You think you have a lot of video game magazines? You’re wrong.
  • And finally, a few catch up quotes-of-the-moment:

    “In the April 28 issue, Stranger managing editor Bradley Steinbacher declared that Sony’s new handheld system, the PSP, would end rival Nintendo’s reign as handheld gaming king. Time, however, has not proved Mr. Steinbacher right—as it never does when he makes predictions. We regret the error that is Bradley Steinbacher.”

    -If only all game pundits could be so honest in retrospect.

    “There are so many games in development that it’s pretty tough cutting down the list, so I try to emphasize ones with unique twists. Also, in honor of ColecoVision (1982) and Nintendo Entertainment System (1985), I will only mention new games for current next-generation consoles.”

    -No it doesn’t make more sense in context (Thanks to Nathan Smart for this out-of-the-way find).

There’s lots more to discuss, but I have to save something for the rest of the week, and none of you even read this far anyway. Remember, there’s a lot of writing about games out there, and I can’t possibly read it all, so send in your tips for articles that deserve to be read or ridiculed.

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