Video game journalism needs an overhaul

A month ago, longtime gaming journalist Dave Halverson wrote an editorial in Play about what the video game industry needs to do in order to become "accepted." It was an excellent piece (unfortunately not available online), and brought up the similarities between gaming and Hollywood. There's one that needs repeating, and one that needs to be added.

The most obvious point he made was bringing the designers forward and slapping their name on the box. Should we be buying a game because EA published it? No. Ask 50 people in a game store who actually DEVELOPED their favorite game and they'll likely get it wrong. It's bad enough they don't know the company, but why is the director of the project not featured? Die-hard gamers know Will Wright and Shigeru Miyamoto. How many other people do? Do you see a movie because it stars Bruce Willis or because Paramount released it?

That's one step, and the other comes from something Dave does very well. The criticism and journalism needs a major overhaul. We're still using the formula set up by the founders of this portion of the industry from Electronic Games. That worked then, but not now. That should in no way lessen what they did with EG. They created terms we still use today, and that's worth noting. However, the useless scoring system, separate reviews, cheap humor, and spastic layouts of the magazines need to go.

Games are generally reviewed with scoring systems for specific categories. Graphics, sound, gameplay, and an overall total is probably the most widely adopted system. That's fine, but for now:

STOP.

Why do we need this? Are movies scored on acting, plot, cinematography, and entertainment value? Of course not, at least I've never seen one done that way. If there is a score given, it's an overall type. Even the game reviews are segmented this way, splitting themselves up into sections to ensure they can cover each score, and why they gave it.

Think about it for a second. Are you going to (or not) buy a game because it received a 6 in the graphics department instead a 5? Can someone care to tell me exactly what the difference is, and why it's necessary? Actually, I'll take that question: There is no difference and it's not.

As for now, this was just how things have been done since the beginning. It's a recognizable pattern, and it's made itself so well known, if you read a game review not patterned this way, it doesn't even feel right. This needs to stop, especially when we're hitting a generation of game consoles that's going to provide insane graphical detail and intense 5.1 audio. It makes that scoring system seem even less useful.

Then you have the attempts at "humor." It's grating, and putting a movie reference into every piece is not funny. It's annoying. Does Time magazine report this way? No, so why should game magazines? It may not seem like a big deal, but it needs to be done. It's imperative that the voice of an industry can present the hobby in a way that finally moves it out of the mind set that this is still for kids. None of this is helping.

Finally, there are magazines like PSM, strewn together with gaudy, overblown graphics on every page. It seems like it's written for an ADD patient. There's so much going on one page, it's impossible to focus on the text. This used to be a solid piece of independent Playstation writing. Not anymore, and it seems more magazines are following this path.

Some magazines do seem to be slowly moving forward. There's the immaculate Edge over in the UK, Play is of course up there, and recently spawned Hardcore Gamer has potential. Until this all comes around, we'll be stuck with junk like the Spike TV game awards, G4, and PSM.

Comments (2)

LKM:

First of all, games cost more than movies. If I go to a movie and it sucks, well, 10 bucks gone at most, and I still had a few fun hours hanging out with my pals. If a game sucks, tough luck: 50 bucks gone and I ain't ever gone touch it again.

Hence, game reviews need to be more specific than movie reviews. Does a game feature multiplayer? Is it fun in multiplayer mode? Is it fun playing alone? If it's a GBA game, do I need to buy 4 cartridges in order to play against my friends?

Game journalism is a lot more like Car journalism than it is like Movie journalism. If you read a car review, it also has a small box where it says how fast it goes from 0-100 (or whatever it says in America), what the top speed is, how many doors it has, and so on. That's because for cars, it matters. For games, such things matter, too. Game journalism isn't art, it's a buyer's guide. It helps game buyers make choices.

Some people care about graphics, so tell them whether they're good or not.

Personally, I hate movie reviews precisely because most reviewers seem to think they're artists. Wake up, dudes, you're not. You're helping people make a choice about what movie to see, you aren't writing Faust 3. I'm not interested in your capability of writing engaging prose, I just want to know if I'll enjoy the movie.

Lastly, the names of the developers aren't on the box because developers aren't freelancers. Atari doesn't want to make it easy for EA to steal their best devs away, so it's best for them to not release the names of the people who worked on a game.

By the way, the movie reviews on this site have this "rating category" thing, too, and I think it works well.

Hence, game reviews need to be more specific than movie reviews.

And they still can be. I never said they couldn't, though some of IGN's novels are a bit much. I remember going through their Untold Legends review and barely making it out. Four pages, around 2,000 words. It's overkill.

Some people care about graphics, so tell them whether they're good or not.

But we're reaching a point where this will be irrelavant. If it affects gameplay (frame rate for example), then it matters. If not they don't. This is one way to move people away from these thoughts of "graphics matter."

Personally, I hate movie reviews precisely because most reviewers seem to think they're artists.

I disagree. There's a way to do it right, and a way to do it wrong. It may not be art, but it takes far more than people think to do it right. Look around Gamefaqs and see what I mean about people who don't know what they're doing.

I just want to know if I'll enjoy the movie.

And you should be able to figure that out regardless of how it's written, or the writer has failed. The last paragraph is usally enough.

Lastly, the names of the developers aren't on the box because developers aren't freelancers. Atari doesn't want to make it easy for EA to steal their best devs away, so it's best for them to not release the names of the people who worked on a game.

Credits are available in the game (generally) and in the instruction book. It's not hard to find these people at all. That's like saying we shouldn't give credit to Steven Spielberg so company X doesn't steal him away. No one will ever touch Peter Molyneux or Miyamoto anyway.

By the way, the movie reviews on this site have this "rating category" thing, too, and I think it works well.

Believe it or not, I was asked to put them in by someone who read them, and it was a personal choice after that. Notice I never give ratings to reviews of just movies, only DVDs. The person said they usually have already seen the movies and only want to know about the video, audio, and features. They made a good point I felt that since I don't know anywhere near as much about films as I do games, they help me out a bit too.

The ratings let people glance quickly to the sections they want/care about. I hate "headers" into each section, and at least the ratings have a point.

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