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Hit absolutely any gaming site through any social networking portal, whether it be N4G, Digg, Stumbleupon and so on, and it’s incredibly likely that you are going to encounter at least one, if not more, Top 10 articles. Am I honestly the only gamer who cannot stand the sight of these complete wastes of virtual space?

Not only are lists the most lazy form of filler, they contribute nothing of any value to the general information highway, or news stream. More importantly, they’re a symbol of how the new media landscape is forcing writers to spend less time on writing quality articles and more time pushing out an alarming amount of junk for the sake of hits.

When I joined Gamer Limit as an Editor, one of the first types of articles I decided to remove from the site were Top Tens. Aside from being completely subjective, poorly written, traffic pullers, they have completely made legitimate awards irrelevant. Originally, lists were left for E3, or the occasionally slab of targeted light humour. The problem now is that a large majority of gaming media sites use them to fill the spots in their 24hr blanket coverage.

It’s widely known that a large bulk of content written on blogs and central gaming sites usually goes completely unread. The sheer amount of content generated in the space of a single hour is mind blowing, and a simple look on any social link aggregation website will demonstrate that. But how much of it is worth reading? And what happens to those “must-read” articles that get dumped in the rubbish bin of invisibility?

A colleague on another site recently mentioned to me how difficult it was to get quality work made visible. Digg has become such a phenomenon that it’s now impossible to simply submit an article and get more than 5 hits. A combination of spam, duplicated news, plagiarized news, and filler content now clog the pipes of the site. The only way to get your work on the top of the pile is to court the services of a “Power Digger”.

A Power Digger operates just how it sounds: it’s someone who has gained enough kudos and respect on that their submissions are basically agreed as instant gold without question. Aside from the sheer fact that the system was originally created to avoid situations like “Power Diggers”, this is the reality. One particular PD decided to take a look through the backlog of posts on this site and choose a couple of possible candidates for addition. Yep, you guessed it; they were all Top 10s from when our site was in its infant stages.

Arguably, they do gain a lot of traffic. People love to argue and flame the writer, as well as each other, creating nothing but insults, rather then interesting and intelligent debate (which may or may not be a result of the below comments). Then they leave as quickly as they came, moving onto hungrily the next article, ignoring any of the interesting features regarding interviews with developers, previews on new games or anything that required actual effort or journalistic input by the writer.

If we hearken back to golden era of print media, or even early online media, this wasn’t the case. Interesting features on the state of the industry, of the people who worked in it, the games that were made from it, and the culture that spawned from it, were the norm. Sites like ours, The Escapist, Destructoid, and many others do continue to provide expert commentary and actual coverage (outside of the common press release), but many blogs, and sadly a lot of the big sites, are just falling back on lists.

My concern is that this flood of lazy work will become all that is available: press releases, lists, rumours, video rants and teasers. We now have access to the most comprehensive information network in the world, and slowly but surely, uninformed opinion and junk articles are rising to the top. People will quickly blame the reader for this, but I will blame the writer.

If you write it, they will come. If sites like IGN and Gamespot continue give in to this sort of pap, then so will others trying to replicate their success. To make myself clear, I have no problems with humorous articles. Light entertainment is all part of the fun, and I can deal with it, even though my writing tends to be more serious in nature. But you don’t have to write lists to be funny, just like our own Chris Carter, West and Jim Sterling from Destructoid demonstrate admirably.

So what is the solution? Are we going to sit on our hands and just complain about this? No: we’re going to deliver quality material to you without resorting to top tens. You’ll see a myriad of content that delivers the same excitement and laughter a top ten article might, but without resorting to a complete subjective and easy way out. I encourage all of my fellow journalists, who strive to be the light in the slowly growing dark to start focusing on why you started writing in the first place. I’m sure it wasn’t to create fanboy flame fodder, and I’m positive it wasn’t to bring down the high standard of journalistic integrity created by our print media forefathers.

  1. avatar Jickle

    I have to go out on a limb here and admit that I, generally, quite enjoy lists. Possibly because I read every single day. Possibly because they serve as a great reason to discuss older, more inventive/weird/unique games that warrant a mention but don’t merit a whole article dedicated to them. Possibly because I first discovered Masq on a ‘list’ on Gamesradar, or maybe because, like you said, a lot of them are quite funny.

    Refering to my E3 list a while back – it was far from the best thing to go up that day, but it got more hits in Australia than anything else on the site that day, purely because it was a Top 10 and people like to have a look and see what got number 1. I’ll admit my list was aimed mostly to build up a bit of E3 hype, but quite often, depending on the site/list, you can find out some pretty interesting stuff.

    I do agree that quality work is hard to make visible, however. I’d discuss it further but I have a headache and was going to have a lie down. >_>

    • avatar Shosii

      I would extend that cmemont to record collecting and reading comic books.I can’t tell you how many times I have been bothered at concerts and at comic book stores by morons who don’t understand that I CAME TO SEE THE SHOW, not to meet guys. Or that I am there to buy comics, not to be picked up. I don’t care about your knowledge of comic-book trivia and I don’t want you to buy me a beer. Sell me my records and let me get out of here.It wouldn’t bother me if it just happened once or twice, but it happens nearly every time. Most other places I go it seems like a guy needs some encouragement or at least signals that I’m receptive before hitting on me, but in those guys only spaces it’s taken for granted that I’m ready and willing.

  2. avatar Alan

    This is so dead on

    • avatar Groli

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  3. avatar Randolpho

    I work for the gaming media. Do you mind if I add your post to my top ten list of bloggers’ complaints about top-ten lists?

    • avatar Syed

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  4. @ Randolpho

    But then you’d be making a top ten, thus perpetuating the laziness. Didn’t you learn anything? ;)

  5. avatar Randolpho

    …. I guess not. I do work for gaming media, after all.

  6. Brilliant stuff James. Couldn’t agree more.

  7. avatar Emgee

    @ Jickle – is awful.

  8. avatar Re

    Cracked is a shit-stain.

    • avatar Masroor

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  9. I’m also, unsurprisingly, not a fan of cracked.

  10. There are a million alternatives to “top 10s”. The absolute hilarious part of the craft itself, is that we could make 10 top 10s by the end of the day, no problem. James brought up a brilliant point that I’d like to expand upon.

    “What about top ten shoes in gaming!” I could come up with some sort of list RIGHT NOW that would have Sonic at number 1. If Sonic wasn’t number 1, I’d get 1,000 comments all whining about why he isn’t. You see? Top tens are laughably predictable, which is the point of this article. Select few gaming media sites are looking to present you with unpredictable editorials: including Gamer :D .

    “Top ten Bears in gaming” (with Banjo as number 1). I just came up with that while writing this. No doubt Nintendo fans would give it 6,000 hits by the end of the day, and argue why the Ice Climbers bear isn’t number 1 for “nostalgic purposes”.

  11. avatar Aaron Clark

    Top Tens do have some merit, if I’m looking to pick up some older games I have missed for a particular system or genre, I do like to read a few top tens before I pick something up.

    And while I do prefer better substance in game writing, it just won’t ever become the norm, there just aren’t enough gamers interested in games as an intellectual medium. That’s part of why Next Generation Magazine folded up.

    • avatar Thoumy

      Abnormal this post is totaly uenrlated to what I used to be looking google for, but it surely was once listed on the first page. I suppose your doing one thing right if Google likes you enough to position you at the first web page of a non related search.

  12. avatar Ferrel

    This is actually somewhat depressing to read! I’ve never really resorted to lists on Epic Slant other than in regards to thinks I want in a game or need done.

    You’re spot on about Digg though. I tried generating traffic there for a while but it didn’t go so well.

    At this point I am content to see my two articles a week go up. Whether they’re read or not I at least put thought into them. Still depressing though!

  13. One of the reasons I read Gamer Limit first is because of these thoughtful types of articles. But if you look back in the archives at other philosophical/thought-provoking articles, they are the ones that are very very rarely commented on, even though the purpose of many of them is to spark a debate. But then you read “Why I hated Battletoads” and you see over twenty comments.

    The sad truth is that people (at least people that read game blog sites) like nostalgia, and they like lists, and they like light-hearted funny stuff. With an exception made for Bioshock and it’s Ayn Rand-ian philosophies, video games are still not taken seriously as an art by the general public, despite the fact that 50% of Americans play them now. It’s probably the word “game.” Is there a message in Yahtzee? Yahtzee is a game. But it’s such a different monster that, until we can separate video games from other mere playthings, they won’t be taken seriously. And the gaming media isn’t helping either. I booted up my browser today and saw 10 articles that said Olivia Munn is going to be not naked in Playboy again! Oh yay! If only the popularity of gaming would transfer itself into a realm where thinking is encouraged, instead of the world of soft porn.

  14. avatar shimsham

    Here is a list of tips for improving the writing and editing at your site:

    1) Start with a tight, focused lede. Avoid rambling introductory sentences with too many asides and redundant phrases. For example, “at least one” implies “if not more,” so the latter is unnecessary.

    2) Don’t put quotes around phrases that don’t require them, like “new media landscape” and “big sites.”

    3) Don’t use non-standard abbreviations (e.g., “24hr”).

    4) Smaller numbers can be written as words (e.g., “five” instead of “5″)

    5) Don’t mix metaphors (e.g., pipes and piles)

    6) Don’t put an apostrophe in a possessive pronoun (e.g., “it’s infant stages”).

    There’s more, but those are some big things to watch.

    Best of luck with the site. You’re providing good content. Present it professionally, and you’ll earn more respect — and likely more viewers.

  15. @shimsham
    We are very grateful for your insight! This editorial was written for a formal audience, so it does have some diction that’s rough around the edges, but your criteria is spot on.

  16. avatar Sam

    A really good read, but I’m not sure I see any harm in using light hearted and fun features like top tens. The subject matter is games after all. I’m not sure most people browsing for opinions care too much for long winded insights into the workings of the industry. Also, top tens don’t have to be mindless and predictable if you write them well enough.

  17. avatar young

    When the internet first started, articles were of clear thought as only the smartest people were using it. These people believed in the betterment of mankind through education and REAL news (Read: kill gossip news readers). These genetically superior people are now slowed by the mainstream idiots who read gossip puke and the crap articles spawned by website hit revenue. Right now there is some stupid yob thinking, “gee how can I get people to visit my website so I can get .0002 cents from Google”? Yesterday I read an article about a “First Ride” on a motorcycle. It was so obvious the idiot never rode the bike, it was nothing more then an article written by a pansy using colorful phases, not one once of technical anything. He might have been writing about riding a horse. Yes the internet sucks today which is what RSS feeds are for.

  18. I have to admit, this was one of the most poorly written articles that I have posted on the site.

    Please do not consider this as the technical standard of my writing. There are other articles I’ve published that do a much better job of demonstrating my skill.

    I do find it interesting that other journalists are attacking the grammatical mistakes in the article, rather then addressing the actual point that I made.

  19. avatar Got Examples?

    Suggested edits: “IGN” should read “1UP”, “Gamespot” should read “Games Radar”

  20. avatar Daisy Dukes

    I like the article and you make a very strong point. Especially about how top ten lists are mere stat grabbers. The only thing I might suggest is using a different banner. I’ve actually read that book, and it focuses on narrative and story telling within video games, where as your article focuses on actual well thought out video game journalism. Just a FYI

    • avatar Ivan

      I’m speechless. This can be a suerpb blog and very attractive too. Nice work! That’s now not actually a lot coming from an newbie publisher like me, however it’s all I may just say after diving into your posts. Nice grammar and vocabulary. Not like other blogs. You actually recognise what you?re talking about too. Such a lot that you made me want to discover more. Your blog has develop into a stepping stone for me, my friend.

  21. avatar AoE

    I got a kick out of this bit: “they have completely made legitimate awards irrelevant”

    Honestly, awards are just industry circle jerks anyway (this goes for all awards given in all industries) They’re no more or less valid than top ten lists, but slightly more obnoxious since there is generally a put-on air of importance associated with them.

    Also this bit: “My concern is that this flood of lazy work will become all that is available”

    Perhaps you don’t ever actually read any gaming media, and so this can be forgiven. Top ten lists are not the root of the problem, or even the largest symptom. You should peruse a newsstand and read some of the gaming magazines available, check out some blogs too. You’ll quickly notice that poor grammar, and even spelling errors are endemic to the gaming press be it print or online. The vast majority, if not all game journalists are apparently uneducated idiots with little regard for the language they work with or even their readership.

  22. The problem is that the Internet is so widespread that anyone with a keyboard can make their opinion heard, whether it’s correct or not. Most people that write about games are gamers, not writers. It’s like having a president that’s never served in the military. How can you be the commander-in-chief of a group you’ve never been in?!

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