Journalism: The Videogame: Redux

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Chapter 2: Let’s complain a little

By Frank Cifaldi

Video games are fun and interesting and stupid and beautiful and I like them more than anything else in the entire world.

When I hang out with my friends, I talk about video games. I can’t leave a department store without looking at its games section, which is dumb because I hardly ever buy one. A lot of the songs that get randomly stuck in my head came from games (the first level from Gremlins 2 on the NES tonight, if you’re wondering. One of my brain’s recent favorites.)

I may not play nearly as many of them as I used to, but at this point in my life I’ve come to peace with the fact that I will never be the cultured, educated, well-rounded person that I always wanted to be. I’m just too distracted by games. And I’m OK with that.

Why in the hell is it, then, that I do not read, trust, or enjoy any video game websites or magazines? Why can’t anyone make me feel the way I feel when I’m talking about games with other people? For god’s sake, why doesn’t anybody seem to be having any fun doing this kind of work?

These are big questions. I’ve got my pet theories. I have my own experience writing about games that I could draw from. But, you know, that’s kind of beyond the scope of what I came by tonight to talk to you about. Besides, I’m probably too stupid to actually have the answers. But what I can do is bitch for a while, and that’s what I’m going to do. And because I’m really late delivering this text, I’m going to cut out the crap and whittle things down to my three biggest complaints. This will give you adequate time to read through the novella I’m sure Tim Rogers wrote.

Not All Games Are New

When I was a young guy I took a night job at a video rental store, just because I could. I didn’t even need it, but the thought of extra cash and free movie rentals appealed to me. And besides, I didn’t want to die having never worked retail.

Something I came to realize very quickly is that most of the people that came into the store never looked beyond the New Releases section. Even my most frequent customers had this bizarre ritual where they would pace up and down that wall, staring at the same boxes, trying to will a new movie into just materializing on the shelves because they had already seen most of the others. They would go home with some soulless B-grade crap, just because it was new. They’d watch it, hate it, return it, and just repeat the same process over again the next night. And never once would they look at any of the other sections in the store.

Video game websites are exactly like this, and it’s silly. I’m not expecting everyone to live in the past, or defend clunky old games out of some sense of nostalgia, or do much deep exploring to see what hidden gems they might have missed. I’m just saying it’s OK to put down the new Jack Black movie and, I don’t know, go see if The Truman Show is as good as you remember, or see if they’ve got a Hitchcock movie you haven’t seen before.

Yes, I Know, It’s All Over Twitter

I’m not going to name names, but someone I once worked for told me that my job as a news editor was to make sure that absolutely everything that is popular on other sites should be on our site too. The role of our site, he explained, is to be sure to publish everything that people might be interested in seeing.

The problem with running the same content that is on all the other sites, is that that content is on all the other sites. Every one of the sites is on the exact same PR schedule, posting the exact same announcements at the exact same time, going to the exact same press events and writing impressions on the exact same builds of the exact same games.

This is all an attempt of course to build traffic and sell better ads: be on top of the newest news, get one of the first reviews out there, and you’ll be thanked with a healthy comscore. That’s how the business works.

But the hilarious result of thinking this way is that there isn’t a website I actually go to anymore, since they’re all the exact same thing. Instead I just wear out the “J” key on my keyboard quickly flipping through my gigantic RSS feed looking at minor variations of the same headline.

Everyone always talks about building an audience organically, about “good” traffic that sticks and comes back, but this isn’t how you do that.

I Don’t Want To Hang Out With You

I realize it isn’t fair to compare great works of fiction to a 20 minute barfed out blog post, but good writing in any medium should make you want to actually talk to the person who wrote it. Good works of journalism, with the exception of straight factual reporting, should at worst make you want to hang out with the author and, at best, make you want to physically embody them.

Have you ever felt this way about a video game writer?

It is rare for me to read a piece of video game journalism or criticism and want to be anywhere near the person who wrote it. I literally do not know the names of any writers at IGN or GameSpot, and I have worked on the same street as them and have attended the same press events and conferences as them for years now. And that’s just bizarre.

I’m not saying that video game journalists aren’t “cool” enough, I’m just saying that they don’t come across as actual human beings. No one seems to actually care for what they’re writing about, they’re just kind of going through the motions in a robotic way. Even the so-called personality injected randomly into a blog posts on most of these sites seems so disingenuous, like it came from some kind of video game audience algorithm.

I don’t know if there’s a solution to all this stuff. Lord knows I’ve tried to find one myself. All I know is that in an age where everyone gets their news from everywhere simultaneously, nobody’s going to survive being a catch-all information hub anymore. This isn’t just true for games, it’s true for the entire media world. And in the age where small, boutique games are starting to find their audience and flourish in their own ways, I hope the publications that write about them can do the same.

-The last time Frank Cifaldi wanted to hang out with a video game writer was when he discovered the original Insert Credit.
Now he totally hangs out with these guys like, all the time.


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