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[Make sure you check in every Saturday, as Gamer Limit will always have an interesting editorial for you to read. Feel free to also check out our full schedule right here!]

We at Gamer Limit tend to avoid talking candidly, and publicly, on the whole “meta journalism” situation, since most gamers generally don’t give two hoots about the field, nor the little game of generating self-justification and credibility amongst “mainstream” media that we like to play.

But there has been a bit of interesting discussion lately amongst bloggers and games journos about what constitutes real “journalism” and whether those of us who cover games as a medium will gain the same respect as those in politics, music, movies and other established areas.

I’d like to discuss why the gaming industry is unlike any other, and how it tends to skew and bend in ways that make it difficult for games journalists to gain any tract and respect from others in our field.

It’s easy to see why game journalists strive for acceptance amongst their peers. Throughout my years of freelance writing and editing for various gaming sites and magazines, I’ve met some of the most intelligent, creative and talented individuals with bucketloads of passion and enthusiasm to boot. Endlessly thinking up new and interesting stories, developing intriguing debates, and forever constantly analysing the medium we love to love and hate to hate.

As a result, most, nay, all of my peers, including myself, write not only for our audience, but for each other. Behind the scenes, in the depths of Twitter, LinkedIn and other various social networks, we refer and discuss each other’s work. We pick it apart, we ask blunt questions, but generally we hope that what we’ve developed encourages debate and pushes us one step closer to that holy grail of reputation.

We aren’t alone in this. Music journalism seems to be the only other entertainment media industry that seems to mirror our own. Where the artists are revered, but at the same time savagely torn apart by their critics. Albums, like games, release on an almost constant basis, offering a tailored experience, while interviews with bands provide that deeper insight, and featurettes highlight the history and evolution of modern prose and sound.

But unlike music, our industry isn’t full of idols – individuals, creatives, ensombles, but corporations. Giant publishing and development houses like EA, Microsoft, Ubisoft and Nintendo. Companies whos only goal is not to inspire, but to entertain. To turn a profit. Thus, much of our communication with the individuals who make our games are shielded, their second skins those of the PR firms that protect them from the rabid media.

Publishers have seen how other entertainment mediums were broken down, where those behind the creative minds were allowed free access to the press, so say and do what they liked. They learnt. Which is why press freedom in the videogame industry is heavily regulated behind a bunch of salient “rules” that cover how and when journos can access developers and in what way they can release information.

Games for review are the bargaining chips in this messy equation. More expensive then a movie, or an album, sites and magazines rely on publisher supplied media in order to fill the salivating appetites of their media hungry readers. Terms behind these copies are strict, and while scores generally are not punishable, the requirements before PR firms will take your name and say it nicely are high indeed.

Thus, journalism in the gaming area is a different ball game. Getting past the publishing houses and corporations to find the delicious scandal within can be dangerous. Publishers buy ad space. They supply media. They push out press releases that detail that delicious news that people crave. In this industry more then any, publishers control the space. Development houses may make the games, but they also rely on publishers for their income, and are thus loathe to speak out of line.

Unlike life, where controls are limited, and generally, the press are not punished for their reveals, the gaming media sit on the teat of the content producers more then any other. They are a mouthpiece for the industry, providing comment on the developments and criticism on the content that is produced. On the odd occasion, where the real world mixes into the game world, stories are developed, but this tends to be rare, and it’s reasonably silly to only call this element of reporting “journalism” due to its relationship with “mainstream” news services like CNN.

The flipside of this coin is that, when it comes down to it, it’s all about the games, rather then the juicy, scandalistic stories behind them. Time and time again, we find that readers are much more interested in surprises regarding new features, or release dates than insider information on the workings of a game studio. There is no rock star admiration of the little guy behind the games here, but merely the respect for the studio and occasionally, the messiah like admiration of your Miyamoto or Kojima.

In any case, most scandals tend to benefit publishers as much as they do journalists. But I’m of the opinion that gaming journalism isn’t always finding out the meta elements of the industry, such as game studios scandals regarding pays or public stouches between certain players. I think that most of it is, and rightly so, is about the games. Breaking them down, discussing their makeup, and how they can be improved.

Just because the news you report isn’t going to save the world or reveal political corruption, it does not make it any less important. Reporting is reporting, and the videogame industry is chock full of so many interesting people, stories, and opinions that we should be impressed with the quality of what we are publishing. Our industry is still so young, and with time will come the respect that so many crave.

  1. avatar Phaethon

    I would say another thing that separates video games journalism from other fields is that games are even more subjective. It’s easy to look at something or listen to it and decide if it’s for you. But with games, you have to interact with it for an extended period of time before its effect really sinks in. Any two people can have two reactions to the same experience in a lot of areas, but in games the interaction makes it more dynamic.

    With games being something that takes this interaction it’s easy for older more separated individuals to give it a passing glance. They’re judging it the same way they’d judge a movie or a song. There’s little interaction involved, and when they try it’s so unfamiliar they are put off from it.

    I think as time goes on and more people who grew up with games take over the roles from those who didn’t, more emphasis will be placed in fields that take increasing amounts of interaction. Or there’s always the likely possibility that something new will develop and we’ll be outcast there as well. Darn it :) .

  2. Nice Editorial James, I enjoyed that. I totally agree with the points you raised, I feel to survive you have to ensure you have a skin thicker than an elephant.

    As a side note, I wouldn’t mind being pulled apart or criticized by more people at Gamer Limit. (in private messages though) ;)

  3. I do think videogame journalism is less important than politics and what is generally known as “hard” news.

    You gotta be realistic when you’re in a field that is for entertainment, it’s not as important as the life or death situations that are reported on daily in what I’d term “real” news websites, newspapers and TV.

    I love games, it’s my passion. However, I have a very grounded view on the medium and place it quite low in terms of its standing in the journalism world, something I one day hope to help remedy like James is doing; using good, insightful reporting and keeping integrity intact.

  4. I was having this exact discussion with my younger brother a month or so ago. Great piece, read the whole thing mate :)

  5. avatar Arnold Bennett

    As a student of journalism looking to pursue a career in ‘videogames journalism’, your article made my day James. You summarised my feelings perfectly and concluded things with purpose.

    And finally, something positive about the profession for once.

  6. avatar vzvz

    “As a student of journalism looking to pursue a career”

    too late for that mate

  7. I remember an editorial piece in Hyper a while back about non-disclosure agreements (which I have, admittedly, never had to deal with as a freelancer) and how no other entertainment writers had to deal with some of the ridiculous clauses these things put forth.

    Having grown up reading magazines and eventually game websites, I do think, in general, that the quality of games writing is being taken more seriously now than it ever has. It’s become more introspective (as this piece proves). We’re more aware of our flaws as writers, and a lot of new faces entering into the field are hoping to do something about it. Previews no longer read quite so much like re-written press releases. Features take games seriously. Bad articles and websites aren’t performing nearly as well.

    In any case, pretty much everything you say here is spot on, so good work. :P

  8. avatar The_Lexx

    Posting editorials on N4G is unfortunately dubious at best. I suggest you stay clear of so called ‘news sites’ that encourage bias and hate. Why not submit your work to a more reputable site like Kotaku?

    Don’t let anyone discourage you, mate.
    Keep up the great work.

    - Lexx

  9. I’ll tell you what I told Wardrox over at Negative Gamer, James: I don’t accept any editorial about games journalism that isn’t in Top 10 form ;)

    (Great article, however!)

  10. I just remembered another thing I forgot to mention last night. I also think we are taken more seriously because here especially, as an industry gamers seem to write more constructively.

    I have never seen “it has omg pew pew lazors” or “this game just fails, no reason it just does.” on this site :)

  11. avatar Floost

    I really like your blog and i respect your work. I’ll be a frequent visitor.

  12. avatar Tracey

    I think a lot of ‘games journalism’ isn’t journalism, not because it has anything to do with how seriously our industry is (or isn’t) taken, but because the majority of the time we’re writing about the games themselves. The majority of ‘game journalists’ really are game writers and game reviewers, in the same way that I feel that most music journalists should be called music writers, and arts journalists should be arts writers. Unless there is any journalism being done, then it’s not journalism.

    I don’t think game writers need to try and validate what they do by trying to classify it as another unique form of journalism, because journalism is what it is. It’s made up of news values, and while it is possible to have actual ‘games journalism’, the nature of what we write about tends to mean that there aren’t big stories worth breaking or hot gossip about corruption. We mostly write about the games themselves, and there’s nothing wrong with that. :)

  13. avatar Wardrox

    Good read (again, I did actually read it last night, but was a touch too drunk to really gain any great insight).

    It basically boils down to current gaming journalism being an extension of PR, not journalism. As time goes on and the gaming media getting wider and wider, smaller and smaller, eventually the current PR tactics just break down. It’ll be interesting to see. I think also if we can inspire people not to be shit when it comes to game writing, or at least to try not to be shit, that’ll help.

  14. avatar Paul W

    I hate the majority of the public and the mainstream media’s lack of intelligence in analysing videogames and the culture that videogames have created. However, whilst someone who conducts interviews with people who make the games and feeds this back on their website, hopefully including some intelligent analysis of this, can call themselves ‘journalists’, I think that it should still be remembered that this does not necessarily mean that their own opinions are any more insightful or well argued than the very best user reviews and ‘amateur’ articles submitted by games players on shopping sites or forums. It is an ‘us and them’ mentality that the mainstream media use- games ‘journalists’, whose qualifications may be no better than anyone else’s, shouldn’t follow the mainstream media in this.

  15. avatar petey pablo

    Game journalism is a joke, they get paid by these production companies to either trash or give their games excellent scores. Let’s take Halo 3 ODST for examaple. That game should have never received a score higher than a 8, but Microsoft has so much money it’s hard not to give them a passable score. These games journalist tend to get upset when they hear the gamers call them on it but it’s like the article say; the gaming industry is big business. When you spend millions on making a game the end result for the publisher is a profit.

  16. @ Lexx

    We’ve been submitting articles on N4G for a while, and while though the general overall quality of work submitted on that site is arguable, I enjoy the possibility of various eyes on my work, regardless where they come from.

    Thanks for the comment though, I’m glad you consider my writing of a higher standard then *should* be on social media sites.

  17. That was a great article, I think gaming journalism is gaining it’s own personality but has to suffer a lot more scrutiny, because a lot of gamers are happy to come and be vocal on websites, and some devs actually pay attention to what people online are saying (look at the Left 4 Dead 2 thing).

  18. Excellent article James; you hit on a lot of reasons why I think Gamer Limit is above the curve, and isn’t subject to publisher pressure.

    In fact, we talk about this in great length on our latest podcast.

  19. Interesting piece, James. It’s a shame that games journalists rely so heavily upon the corporations that make the games, creating a sort-of “conflict of interest”, if you will.

    You are correct, though, that this industry is incredibly young, and I too hope that in the future a similar level of respect will be awarded to us.

  20. The best part about Gamer Limit – even without free games from publishers because we gave one of their other games a high review score, the reviews will keep coming. This site is FULL of passionate gamers (and fairly decent writers, too) that will play games just because their love them, and we will talk about them just because they are what we like to talk about. If publishers don’t give us their free crappy games for us to hold up and scrutinize to the world, we’ll STILL buy games ourselves and tell the world our opinions in an objective, eloquent manner.

    That’s what we do. We’re gamers, and we’re writers. We don’t just say what others want to hear. We say what we believe is the truth, and we say it clearly. What more can you want?

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