Dan Morris makes me wonder what you all think


So as not to derail Tom’s thread, I’d like to ask for opinions on a line in the article:

There’s a debate right now in games-journalism circles, centered on the idea that journalists need to divorce themselves from the “fanboy/fanzine” tradition and become more clear-headed consumer advocates. I’m all for this, and consider PC Gamer a consumer’s magazine above all else – but if we can’t get excited about Half-Life 2, then it’s hard to imagine what we’re allowed to get excited about.

Questions for gaming writers, designers and consumers of game media:

  1. Is there really pressure on the game magazines to become more journalistic? The game magazines I get are divided up into two schizophrenic sections. The first 9/10th of the magazine are fanboy previews telling me what great exciting creations are coming down the pike, then the last section is reviews and maybe an editorial or two. Gaming websites are the same. Is there some kind of demand for hard hitting journalism among game related media consumers?

  2. What’s the role of the game reviewer in our gaming culture. I think of them as a friend that gives recomendations based on games they have played. I have a few favorite reviewers and I listen to them and some reviewers I ignore because they have different tastes from my own.

  3. Would a critical reviewer/publication be influential enough to make games better? The movie industry, fashion world, art world, music industry and literature circles have critics that are so well respected that impressing them is better than making a profit. Winning a prize at Sundance or Cannes or picking up a best documentary oscar is such a prestigious honor that people will spend their personal fortunes or pass up projects with huge commercial potential in order to win one of these prizes. Will gaming ever have a set of individuals who just make great games to impress the discerning critics or is gaming too remote from a definiton of art to make this possible?

  1. On forums, sure. But I think it’s goofy to disconnect consumer advocacy from enthusiasm; the latter IS advocacy. What people are talking about is not abuot getting excited about Half-Life 2 when it ships; it’s getting excited about Half-Life 2 three years before it ships. That’s where people might be a bit more clear-headed.

  2. They just give an opinion, hopefully in an entertaining manner, and hope the reader is able to make an informed choice and maybe, just maybe, gets a better understanding of what makes for a good game.

  3. Hah, no. Games are judged almost solely by how they sell, not how they’re received or some other definition of quality.

What? Sure, people crave good buzz from the critics, but you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone with utter disregard for profit.

Winning a prize at Sundance or Cannes or picking up a best documentary oscar is such a prestigious honor that people will spend their personal fortunes or pass up projects with huge commercial potential in order to win one of these prizes.

People who emphasize profits are generally the same ones who most crave the prizes – since the prizes help drive more profits.

Re #3: In the games industry, like other media industries, many in the industry DO want to create works that are well regarded by their peers. Sales numbers (and the profits from them) are of course important, but at every level of game development, there’s an interest in creating cool games well regarded by the ‘insider’ group.

Developers will accept less sales, less profits, lower salaries and/or worse work conditions to work on games that they believe are cool (though exactly HOW MUCH of a sacrifice they’ll take and what kind of game they consider cool and will sacrifice for varies from developer to developer).

For that matter, the game industry as a whole has, on average, lower monetary rewards (salaries on an absolute level and relative to hours worked), than competing industries (i.e. biz software). Pretty much everybody who’s in the industry is sacrificing a bit financially in order to work on something they think is cool. Even developers working on Barbie Fashion Designer are, by and large, doing that as a placeholder gig to try to launch up to ‘premium’ game development. [/quote]

In fact, you could make a strong argument that the best selling games are more critically respected than either the best selling albums or highest grossing movies. (At least among the AAA titles; budgetware might skew the results a little.) So I’m not sure if there is as much a critics v. masses dichotomy in the gaming world.


That’s right troy the games that are critically acclaimed are the ones that sell the best. So who are all these journalists that are clamoring for more journalistic integrity in game publications?

Is it just that game writing isn’t as well respected as other forms of writing and some game writers want that kind of respect? If that’s the case maybe the game writers who are taking that position need to realise that some game writers already have that kind of respect and it’s good writing that gets you journalistic respect not harsh criticism of the media that you’re reviewing.

It’s actually the other way, games that sell well usually get good reviews. Not all games that get good reviews sell well.

As far as criticism goes, i think a little of it has to do with most of us growing up with -or at least being very familiar- with video games. With something like movies, you’d give some amount of credit to a movie buff friend who’s been into it for decades; I haven’t seen nearly as many movies as Ebert, or even Tom Chick, and i don’t really plan to, so they get bit of credibility even though some of their picks are questionable. It’s the same with games, but that’s pretty much the majority of us, so it’s easier to take the stance that your own opinion carries just as much weight.

The thing with reviews that really gets me is that even the reviewers who are reletively respectable often fail to use their experience. Reviewers gushed or softballed with HL2, for example, like your average monosyllabic GameFAQs peon despite it following every FPS cliche by the numbers and doing so poorly. “PHYSICS! FACIAL ANIMATIONS! DUDE!” What kind of discerning taste is that? I can’t respect people nominating as Game of the Year something that’s entirely in the stone ages of the genre. When anything big comes down the pike, the reviewer opinions are generally worthless and full of holes. When smaller games make their rounds, pigs actually fly out of my ass. Just zip right out. For what mags and review sites do, i may as well just look at ShackReviews, the PA forums, or here for all the good it does me. To say that the games that sell the best are also critically acclaimed doesn’t really mean a whole lot with the critics being of such questionable value, despite being technically true.

As for journalism… What? Where? When did we get any of that? It’s actually surprising that we don’t see any of it. We eat it up. A documented history of Nintendo that goes into the details we can’t see normally is like story time to us. We dig Masters of Doom and Game Over. A Japanese mag once did a matrix of the history of shooter companies from Konami to Treasure, and from Taito to Toaplan to Cave, Raizing, and Takumi. This is stuff we actually can’t come up with on our own very easily, which seems to me more in line with journalism. Previews are actually pretty close too, but there are always adds from Newegg or Falcon Northwest or Alienware or some such shit that both have more space dedicated to them and are more informative. Interviews? We know how those go.

I think what I crave most from game mags is an honest statement of features, pictures to illustrate them, release dates, and things along those lines. Just like with movie critics, I don’t expect to agree with them, nor do I blame them if I hate the game in the end. I do wish there wasn’t such an automatic consensus. Perhaps that is the nature of a youthful type of media…someday, people will be willing to make risky statements abou Halo as easily as they do about Citizen Kane.

I wouldn’t know if there is any pressure. I’m sure not subscribing, I don’t know if that’s pressure for them or not. I probably won’t subscribe again unless it’s something like PCXL.

Magazine reviewers are wageslaves, independent reviews are bitter because they couldn’t do stand-up or some shit. I’d rather have a recommendation from a friend with no reasons, if we know one another well enough it’s usually something I’ll like.

No. Eventually your respected critics are going to croak, get so respected that they are ridiculed, or whine about who gets awards. It creates a whole other annoyance. I’d rather not know that games are good with the onset of exclusive titles, I just feel like I’m missing out for not blowing more money. I’m sort of in random meme’ed web blogger’s corner that I’d like to see gaming magazines with less emphasis on reviewing games.

Game reviews will never reach the quality and accuracy of movie/music/book reviews for one simple reason: Games are interactive, while those other media are passive. While a good imagination may slightly improve the enjoyment of passive media, the quality of the gameplay experience is directly related to the quality of the player.

To use Jon R’s example, a reviewer might tout the PHYSICS! in HL2 and claim that the grav gun is the best weapon evar. An experienced player might enjoy all the clever uses of the grav gun, while a more simple-minded player will just use it when they have to and feel annoyed by the fact they can’t blast their way out of every situation.

No one enjoys a game that they totally suck at, regardless of its quality. It’s pretty damn hard to suck at watching movies.

I really disagree. Movies and books have a vocabulary that’s built up over a long exposure, and the experience can vary with the reader/viewer.

To use a concrete example, look at Joyce’s “Ulysses”. A reader who goes into it expecting to read a Tom Clancy novel is going to hate it–not necessarily because the book’s bad, but because the he sucks at reading this sort of book. (In your terms above, the simple-minded reader is expecting an obvious good guy/bad guy story, while the experienced reader is enjoying Joyce’s word-play, his take on the “Odyssey,” and so on.)

I’ll leave movie examples to the more movie-literate, but I know they exist.