Journalism: The Videogame: Redux

| brandon

Chapters: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | Next |

\\ This feature serves both as the new insert credit manifesto, and an illumination of our personal thoughts and feelings about writing in games, and why we do what we do. Each chapter has a different author, excepting the first and last, which are both written by Brandon Sheffield. The others are penned by Frank Cifaldi (ch. 2), Patrick Miller (ch. 3), Christian Nutt (ch. 4), Tim Rogers (ch. 5), Christopher Woodard (ch. 6), Leigh Alexander (ch. 7), and sort-of Simon Carless (ch. 8). You needn’t read them in any order, and can freely pick and choose. //

If you’re old enough to be as much of a jerk as I am, you might remember we’ve been here before. Back in Aught Three, we published a manifesto decrying video game journalism every-which-way. Game journalism was terrible, we said. It was shallow, and it only talked about graphics. It needed to be more personal. There needed to be a connection between audience and author, such that the reader could say “I know this guy hates JRPGs, so if he hates this game, I might like it!”

We thought writing about games sucked, then. We felt it was dry, and lacked a deeper understanding of how and why people play games, because these writers were *forced* to play things they didn’t like, and then pretend to be objective about it. So, in our idealism, we set out to change that.

And I’ll be danged if we didn’t changed it just a little!

The fact is, writing about games is depressing in all new ways. And guess whose fault it is? It’s mine. It’s my fault. Ours, really. That sounds self deprecating, but it’s actually kind of arrogant, and it’s not even totally untrue. Games writing is now way too personal. It’s too casual. Too many writers inserting too much of themselves in ways that nobody in their right minds cares about. Too many armchair journalists speaking as though their word is gospel. Really, think about that. Armchair journalism has become the standard. Kids on forums actually now truly believe that their opinions are hyper-relevant, because after all, they can write just as convincingly as your average blogger. They’re not really wrong!

The kind of respect Tim Rogers talks about in his piece, you just don’t see that anymore. There’s no reverence for games writers now. There shouldn’t be! But the people writing about games “professionally” should be at least a little better at it than their fans, shouldn’t they? There are those that are, I should mention. Some folks are doing quite a good job out there. But are they rewarded for it? Certainly not.

The facts and the artistry have been ignored in favor of the personal. We at insert credit helped shape the concept of new game journalism, for better or for worse. There’s no getting around it.

I am going to admit that I didn’t know what we had, back then. Insert credit had some 300k unique visitors monthly, within two years of starting up. That’s kind of a big deal, especially for back then! Did you know we started the site so we could get into E3? If not, there you go. We were just doing it. We had ambition and goals, but we were just writing, because we wanted to write, and we liked games.

So there’s another reason it’s my fault that game writing isn’t what it could be. I pretty much stopped trying to make it better. Sure, I run game developer magazine and contribute regularly to gamasutra, but I’m not really pushing writing about games forward in any significant way. I’m an editor now, not a writer. There’s nothing wrong with cultivating the content of others, and someone’s got to do it, but if I’m not pushing things forward, I’m certainly not helping.

It seems to me that what people grabbed onto from the whole new game journalism situation that cropped up back in the 2000s was “inject more of myself into my writing.” Really though, it should’ve been “inject more personality into my writing.”

The point was to make reading about games interesting! In every game, the most interesting story is the one that happens between you and the game. It’s your unique experience with that game. If you’re a good writer, you will make that personal experience relatable. When writing about Animal Crossing, it shouldn’t be “Man, Resetti, you are just the worst, can you believe this freaking guy? Come on, Nintendo, I expect better than that. Here’s a video about how Resetti sucks, after the jump.” That’s just snark and malaise, which seems to be what passes for color nowadays. It could also absolutely be a modern day blog post read and commented on by tens of thousands of fans who also hate (or love!) Resetti.

I used to play Animal Crossing with a girlfriend. We each had our own towns, and would interact with each other in the game from time to time. Our relationship was difficult, tumultuous, rewarding, and long, but ultimately doomed. We loved each other violently and terribly. When we broke up, I didn’t want to play Animal Crossing anymore, because it reminded me of time spent with her, on top of the fact the game made me OCD as hell. But one day, months later, I decided to check in on my town again, just to see whether I might be interested in starting a new playthrough.

I had a letter in my mailbox from my ex, which she had sent me a few days before we broke up. It was addressed to her pet name for me, contained a flower, and said “I love you.”

That pretty much destroyed me.

Now, I have never done anything with that story but recount it to you plain, right here and now. But that’s the kind of thing that’s worth writing about. Remove the video game from the equation and it’s still something someone might want to read. If you can’t find a connection to a game that’s truly meaningful to you, and if you care about games, or writing, just leave it alone. Do everyone a favor, yourself especially, and just don’t write anything. Objectivity is a fallacy, but good, emotive writing and personality is real.

I am absolutely aware of the fact that not everyone is like me. Not everyone wants to read so-called “good” writing about videogames. Most people just want to know how many graphics there will be, if it gots the 1080p in, and whether there will be costume options that allow you to see the female character’s under-boobs. But should those be the people writing about games? If you want to pander to an audience, absolutely. If you want to help form public opinion, do real work, and respect yourself at the end of the day, absolutely not.

I look back on the writing I’ve done on insert credit, and a lot of it I’m not proud of. A couple sentences here and there seem right, though. And I know my intentions were good. Regardless of whether I succeeded, I was always trying to improve my writing, and my ability to tell a story about something meaningful to me. We all did that! This made the writing improve across the site.

Here’s how a month generally went, in our heyday. I would write something. Then Tim would write something, and I’d get jealous that his writing was better than mine. I’d try to write something better, and I’d post it up. Eric-Jon Waugh, now Tairne, would see something in my article that he thought could be better illuminated and dug into. So he did that. I’d want to write something better. For all our faults, typos, and botched attempts, we were actually trying to improve our writing and understanding, with every review and feature. We helped form and improve each others’ writing, and in doing so found ourselves developing a style. And that style was not based on snark, but on feeling and creation. That’s why insert credit resonated with people, in the past, I think. We tried to voice things that were personal but relatable. Nobody gives a shit what I ate for dinner, but people do care about lost love and feelings of deep nostalgia, or abandoned innocence.

So alright, why am I here again? And why are you? I can’t predict your expectations, but I can tell you that I want to get better, not just for me, but for everyone. As ponderous as this sounds, fear not, I will not be taking the burden of Improving Game Journalism upon myself. I’m just going to try to write something fun that makes me feel like I’m writing. If you enjoy it, well man, that’s gonna be great.

I talk all the time about how we “need” to do this or that to advance the medium of games in my columns at Game Developer magazine. But “we” don’t need to do anything. Nobody needs to listen to me… except for me. I have to listen to myself. When I write about how the industry needs to do this or that, maybe I’m just making a to-do wishlist. I want to advance the art of games, and the emotional investment people have in them. I can take no-one to task for this but myself.

I’ve made a few games now, and was narrative director on a big project in Japan for a year, until it got unceremoniously canceled because certain companies don’t know how to manage certain sections of their business. And I’m not yet prepared to do everything I’ve set out to accomplish. But I’ll be damned if I’m not gonna try.

This includes writing about games. I’m just going to write. These other cats on here are gonna write too. We’ll read each others’ writing and one-up each other. And it ought to be just a little bit of fun. We can’t change game journalism, and maybe we shouldn’t try. But we can change ourselves.


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