Monday, January 17, 2011

Journalists, What You Do Matters

Last week's appeal for game creators to bring more consideration toward their craft was just the opening salvo. The overture continues, this time addressing the next stage in the game ecosystem- game journalists.

I'm not going to mince words: what you all do is important. Really important. That I'm able to pay my rent and afford to eat is due in part to you guys. I can help make the best game in the world, but if only 100 people hear about it, I'm going back on the Costco ramen diet for a while.

Especially for a small independent developer without a large studio/publisher's marketing budget and specialist staff, the gaming press is often the only way some people may hear about our game. Some of this year's most successful independent games, like Super Meat Boy and Minecraft, reached heights that would have otherwise been impossible due to the (well-deserved, of course) love they got from the press. Really, you all do a lot for us and I'm very grateful. It's just that sometimes, I wish you appreciated yourselves more.

There's an attitude I see in some of the gaming press, one that denigrates the important work you all do. It's the idea that as journalists, and more generally as creators, you have to "give the audience what they want." While there a kernel of truth in there, certainly one doesn't want to write something nobody wants to read, it's very easy to take the wrong lesson from that. It leads to headlining an interview with an out-of-context comment that has little to do with the bulk of the interview but is more likely to draw page views.

There was the recent dust-up involving Chris, John and CVG/Destructoid (although Jim Sterling's lengthier response is partially what got me thinking about this, because I can't help but feel Sterling is somewhat selling himself and his readers short). One can see both sides, but I do find the "this is just how we have to do things" claimants perhaps too resigned and maybe even a little disheartening. But sure, one can see that both ways.

But then when one of the most thoughtful game designers working today, Jenova Chen, has his thoughts about the purpose behind making Journey distilled into a headline of "Journey dev: shooters are 'not useful'" I cannot help but shake my head (also here, ad nauseum). I do not believe, for one minute, the writer of that piece believed he was doing fair service to what Jenova had said.

It's especially troubling because I think journalists underestimate their influence. Readers take cues from you. In ways both grand and small, you shape the conversation about the games you cover. Respect the influence you all have and be conscientious about the good you can do with it.

Don't take this to mean I think game journalists are malfeasant or are in dereliction of their duty. I know what you all do is important, because I have seen first hand the effect it has had on the games I enjoy and have helped created. I wouldn't say all (or even many) game journalists are really just professional game enthusiasts, but we all know Jamie isn't totally wrong with respect to some either. When AJ Glasser talks about professionalism and "no cheering in the press box," I think she's beating a similar drum. Because (just like game development) I know you all aren't in it for the money. If you're passionate about games, and game writing, a higher standard for both creators and writers should be our common goal.

There really is a legion of exemplary games journalists out there. Rock, Paper, Shotgun is as close to the gold standard as one can get. The coverage is fair, but never breathless. It's written for an audience, not everyone/anyone (that's an important lesson many creators and journalists both don't seem to fully grasp). The writers have personality but don't avoid including pieces outside of their wheelhouse, as long as it lives under the umbrella of PC gaming, of course. One of the contributors, Jim Rossignol, wrote an excellent book about gaming and travel (sort of) called This Gaming Life.

Kirk Hamilton helped start Gamer Melodico but recently became Paste Magazine's games editor and I could not be more excited for what he'll do over there. Michael Thomsen remains IGN's best kept secret (e.g. that Homefront interview). Laura Parker fought hard to get an excellent piece about Limbo and AAA games run at all (disclosure, she talked to me and other smarter folks in that piece, but hey, who says I can't be bought?). Leigh Alexander is not only Gamasutra's News Director, enduring countless earnings calls so we don't have to, but she still manages to produce thoughtful monthly pieces on Kotaku. And that's barely scratching the surface. I certainly could not even come close to enumerating all the great game journalists I've interacted with.

Journalists, I entreat you to care about the importance of what it is you do, because it really does matter. As part of a small independent developer, you directly influence how many people we can reach. And more importantly, you help shape how we understand and discuss games. Be thoughtful about your words and do not be content with the status quo. Last week I implored game creators to keep pushing ourselves. I want to make games that deserve the voice I know you can help provide.

Not to be outdone, next week the other half of the game writer duo, the critics, get their turn. You all do very important work too, and I'm looking forward to tell you why I think so.



Blogger Unknown said...

I really enjoyed reading this article! I volunteer at a gaming website writing news and features and I'm relatively new to the journalism scene. I'm really glad you brought this up because I never really thought about how my article could affect my readers on a deep level.

I'm also glad to hear you talk about not writing for everyone but instead for an audience. Our site is currently going through some changes to try and have a target audience instead of writing the typical articles just to get the most page views. As always, great article!

January 17, 2011 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger Jacob Clark said...

It is great to see you talk about a field that I am getting into just like Alli893. I also do some part time journalism and hope to some day make it a full time career. I try to write on what directly affects me and never really what people want to read. If it happens to everyone wants to read cool but I try to write on a deeper level than just who is pissing off who in the game world. I don't hate Jim Sterling but he does usually pick more polarizing topics.

I hope that with the power of my pen I can help the little guy out. I did an interview with Gnomic Studios which made square off an XBLA shooter for one dollar! I just think companies like Activision, and Rockstar get enough press why not give to someone who really needs the press.

I also would like to thank you again for giving me an interview!

January 17, 2011 at 12:44 PM  
Blogger Nels Anderson said...

@Alli893, @GamingInPublic Thanks guys. And yeah, I think as long as folks are willing to be honest with their writing, folks out there will connect with it.

January 18, 2011 at 9:33 PM  

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