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Because it’s reached the nonsensicality of regular news media. To be fair, I guess this is a sign of “maturation”. Sigh. Look at us, the constant drive to fill a perceived void of news has finally achieved the same level of perspective loss as mainstream 24/7 news. Awesome.

What’s set me off? Ben Fritz’s (of Variety’s Cut Scene) criticism of Civ 4: Colonization (now with more equivocation). Well, there’s also the portion of Wagner James Au’s brain that is responsible for logical deduction imploding, but let’s face it, that’s just funny.

It just seems like now that people are slowing realizing that games can have complex themes and do in fact address serious topics, game journalists are looking for missteps along those lines anywhere and everywhere.

Hey look guys, there’s a book on colonization that recounts the struggles of New World colonizers. Insensitive trash, right? Maybe the only reason that shit isn’t being berated CNN is because books don’t make enough money, I don’t know. Does anybody remember any furor over the release of the original Colonization? Surely if there was no noteworthy controversy it must be because back in 1994 we were all pigheaded eurocentric bastards.

The thing is, game developers do have a responsibility to address topics like this with the appropriate seriousness. But as a game journalist, you’re not going to encourage developers to do that by whining about your complete lack of perspective. If you really want to to encourage developers to do that, here’s a thought: Set a good example.

How about reserving your criticism for a finished product? If you don’t like a teaser, marketing campaign, etc. before game has been completed, how about showing a little respect for the developer and restricting your discussion to those materials?

It’s not like your readership is going to appreciate your uninformed opinion. I don’t know if this means reviewers are required to finish an entire game before discussing it, but I have to think those reviewers that don’t maintain some self-discipline ensuring their opinion is based on reality as much as possible are going to inevitably suffer compared to their more exacting peers.

In the end, when dealing with a historical subject in any medium, is it somehow invalid to look at just one side’s perspective as long as it isn’t glorified unjustly? Sheer limits of space and time dictate the necessity of some limits, let’s be reasonable. Is simply depicting those actions in a game by their very nature glorifying them? This seems to be Fritz’s main argument, not having played the new game or the original. Of course not, how could it be? Unless you honestly believe games are incapable of being more than just power fantasies.

So here’s a request of game journalists – how about reserving yourself from acting out on the existential insecurity of needing to fill the news void? You’re not really making a great case for developers to take something seriously if you can’t either.

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7 Responses to Pretty soon I think I’m going to have to stop reading game news.

  • Nick says:

    The gaming press is peculiar. Some people believe that the more passionate the article, no matter the veracity, the more people will enjoy it, thus it will mean more hits.

    It’s still in a weird place; it’s not all journalism, and it’s not all critiquing. So you have those exacting critics like N’Gai who actually gets flamed for being so thoughtful, and you also have people like Ben Fritz who is clearly trying to make a name for himself in the videogame space. I’d never heard of this guy until recently, but he thinks pretty highly of himself.

    As for his opinion on the Civ 4 issue; I think it’s ludicrous to be upset at a game’s premise. It’s like hearing that Schindler’s List is about the Holocaust and condemning it.

    This is especially unfair to games, where something must be played and experienced in order for someone to build an opinion of the actual gameplay.

    We can assume that it is glorifying colonization, fine. But until we see a pop-up congratulating the player, or we see that the win condition is genocide, we can’t judge. Perhaps actually fully colonizing an area and wiping out the indigenous population incurs some negatives on the player while still rewarding him with the land. Maybe the actual act of colonization is made more ambiguous and involves more influence.

    It’s important for people to look at it from a developer’s perspective as well as the end-user perspective. Sticking to one and being passionate about it can lead to a strong bias that doesn’t add anything but opinion to the discussion.

  • Borut says:

    As a friend pointed out in conversation the other day, perhaps unfairly, perhaps fairly, the majority of gaming press is 18 to 25 and mainly got into it for the free games. :)

    But I definitely think there’s a bias against games that goes beyond the usual “oh games are more violent than movies”, when reviewers for noteworthy sources are doing that sort of thing. There was also the hubub about the unreleased DS game that *was* about the holocaust, and the short description made it sound incredibly poignant and sad, and still people were bitching about it being insensitive (

  • Nick says:

    One of my teachers at VFS was a reviewer, and said the same thing — only he was referring to when he first got involved with the gaming press. The more prominent critics commenting on the industry right now are not within that younger age group(or are on the cusp), and very well may have started for the whole ‘free games’ schtick, ‘back in the day’.

    Although I’m part of that 18-25 age group, I’m afraid I can’t really speak to it: the only close peers I have are from VFS, and as game designers they’re all quite professional about it (we had a ‘games journalism’ elective wherein we all tried to get some reviews published).

    I remember all the hubbub about that game; even the issue of a Holocaust survivor who had spoken against it, but in a surprising move he listened to what the creator had to say, and retracted his comments. He had argued that it’s OK for books and documentaries to portray those events, but not games. I got the impression that he was thinking in the very literal sense of a game; it’s something that’s fun. That’s understandable, because those events were far from fun.

    I think videogames need a more clear definition (interactive multimedia experience etc means nothing to me…) if they’re going to avoid that logic — establishing that they’re not just about ‘fun’. Perhaps the only way that will happen is for a videogame to prove that to the public.

  • Borut says:

    That’s pretty cool about the games journalism class – I’m curious what other sort of stuff did it cover?

  • Nick says:

    One of the main things was a focus on straplines for reviews, or more broadly, developing a high level message with your writing.

    Of course, developing your own style and voice was an objective as well as trying out different formats: first person ‘new games journalism’, trying to write reviews in 250 words, etc.

    It was a great class and our teacher was very critical; it definitely helped improve my writing.

  • As far as I’m concerned, a lot of things need to change in the video game journalism/enthusiast press realm.

    It seems that most of the video game writers today believe in a sort of free style approach where anything they have to say is valid.

    People have lost it (if they even had it in the first place) and now they’re desperate… just like Hollywood.

  • Borut says:

    Haha, it’s so true – yeah, that seeming belief that if as long as what they have to say is entertaining, it somehow counts as game criticism (or journalism), typically neither of which are the case.