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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.