Games Journalism in Crisis

The Current Crisis in Games Journalism: A review of relevant literature

Newman (2008) examined how the specialist gaming press had a powerful impact on the development of the gaming community, and its success was reflective of the significance of gaming in popular culture. The gaming press gives gamers access to developer interviews and insight into the global marketplace, giving them a better understanding and appreciation for the industry. Early on, gaming magazines offered tips and tricks and “player’s guides” and allowed gamers to communicate through letters to the editor.

Gamers also have been known to scrutinize PR releases and other published materials in order to find clues about unreleased games and hardware. As social networking blossomed and their readers moved onto the net, video games press quickly adapted. Raw gaming footage and video have been added to the list of materials that gamers can scrutinize, fed directly into the gamer’s email inbox. Newman (2008) looked at the problems with allowing gamers to peer into the development process, as unfinished games look bad to an uninitiated audience.

There are over 170 mainstream video game related sites ( IGN has more than twice the ranking of any other gaming site, while GameFAQs, Gamespot, and Kotaku round out the rest of the top four (“Pixel Prospector,” August 18, 2014). Many sites have a special focus on a game, a company, or a specific side of the industry. These sites have their own staff, along with guest writers made up of an ever-growing pool of independent bloggers who specialize in writing about games.

Many people criticize the craft of video game journalism in the modern era. Daniel Joseph (2014) criticized his own craft as “nepotistic and built on the corpse of the magazine enthusiast press,” limited to “a subset of privileged individuals” (Joseph, June 25, 2014). He argued that games journalism is labor intensive, with low (or no) financial reward. Joseph suggested if “games journalism wants to become criticism or journalism, it needs to detach itself from the corporate publishers” because “their goal isn’t journalism, it’s content” (Joseph, 2014). This also goes against one of the primary elements of journalism outlined by Kovach and Rosentiel (2007), where “journalists must maintain an independence from those they cover” (Kovach and Rosentiel, 2007, 118).

Christian Nutt (2014) looked at the role ‘YouTubers’ (gamers who make a career out of talking about and playing games on and YouTube) in the gaming industry, and how even multinational corporations such as Disney are investing large sums in the practice. They distance themselves from the press yet take advantage of privileged access to games, without necessarily adhering to the same ethical standards. Recent outcries for transparency have begun to remedy the issue, but their influence and power over the community is immense. (Nutt, July 31, 2014)

L. Rhodes (2014) told us, “games journalism grew out of what’s known as the enthusiast press…and when you write for the enthusiast press, you’ve already throw out some measure of objectivity, since it’s assumed that you and your reader already agree that games are worth your time, money, and interest” (Rhodes, September 4, 2014). Keza MacDonald (2014) looked at the purpose of games journalism and the games press when “there is information everywhere” and “a direct line between the people who make and sell video games and the people who buy them” (MacDonald, June 25, 2014). She suggested that the other use for games criticism, “advising people what to buy….[has] fallen by the wayside, too” with the amount of opinions on the Internet.

MacDonald noticed “older games media is still clinging to these two things” and claims “nobody reads previews… meanwhile, coverage of a game often just stops at review.” Her wish as a journalist was “to invite people to think differently about something” by “presenting me with a viewpoint I had never considered.” She believed the “games press has a responsibility to celebrate and..try to improve the culture of video games…it should point out…the things that need to change.” (MacDonald, 2014) Damion Schubert (2014) suggested some things within the business side of the industry that need to change, including “preferential reviews for large publishers, YouTube payola, Apple store rating manipulations, and [when] Steam Sales push prices down too low for some indie developers to stay viable” (Schubert, September 9, 2014). Eric Swain (2014) looked outside video games to find influences from other art forms because, “so much time gets spent toiling away on our own medium that we rarely look up and see the critical spheres of other mediums” (Swain, October 24, 2014).

This came at the same time that others are claiming the game community, and the idea of gamers themselves are dead. Leigh Alexander (2014) penned a piece that boldly claimed, “Gamers are over.” She characterized the typical gamer as people who “know so little about how human social interaction and professional life works that they can concoct online wars…and cause genuine human consequences” (Alexander, August 28, 2014). Many have long criticized the way that games sexualize and victimize women in their narratives (Cassell and Jenkins 1998, Adams 1998, Schott and Horrel 2000, Graner-Ray 2004, Bryce et al, 2006; in Newman 2008). Newman (2008) looked at how fans sometimes knowingly create fan art and fan fiction to directly address issues such as sexist character archetypes. Erin Kain (2014) examined the controversy surrounding independent game developer Zoe Quinn that ignited discussions about the treatment of women in the industry. (Kain, September 4, 2014).

Alexander (2014) pointed the finger at the big games websites, whose “fans are often associated with blunt Twitter hate mobs…when you decline or create or curate a culture.” She suggested the culture surrounding games was built around a twisted marketing ploy targeting the negative vices of adolescent masculinity, despite trends showing how the current demographic for games has shifted dramatically. She blamed the content creators, too, for their “unwillingness to address new audiences or reference points outside of blockbuster movies and comic books.” Alexander championed the idea that, “part of a writer’s job in a creative, human medium is to help curate a creative community and an inclusive culture.” (Alexander, August 28, 2014).

Wendi Sierra (2014) spoke to the tension that’s built over the issue in response, as people are “feeling their values and beliefs are under attack” and so are “calling for a return to fun…and for developers, journalists, and gamers in general to keep their politics out of gaming.” Instead of trying to retire the label of gamer, Sierra suggested for people to “change what it means to be a gamer, it doesn’t matter if you’re good…[it] can mean a lot of things” (Sierra, September 2, 2014). Steve Gibson (2014) echoed this plainly, admitting that the problems are real, but for “another family enjoying games together…a love of gaming was something they could bond around. How could that ever be a bad thing?” (Gibson, September 9, 2014)