Game Journalism: We Can Do Better

Game Journalism: We Can Do Better

Like Bruce Banner transforming into Hulk as he witnesses an injustice, I can no longer sit idly by as video game news languishes in the quicksand of immaturity. But before I launch into my tirade, allow me to reflect.

I first started reviewing video games for the Vancouver bureau of CTV in 1998. Since then, I’ve spent time discussing or reviewing or reporting on video games for CNN, HLN, CBS News, the Vancouver Sun and even served as “guest editor” for an issue of EGM (I eventually gave [former editor-in-chief Dan Hsu] “Shoe” back his desk and megaphone). I’ve evolved from a Vic 20 to a 360. I’ve attended nearly every E3 since 2002. I’ve been part of a live-fire exercise with the creators of America’s Army, interviewed everyone from Will Wright to Kaz Hirai, and had to call a time out with my level 73 pally on World of Warcraft because, well, I liked him a tad too much.I created a weekly segment at CNN.com called Get Your Game On when very few people believed in it. At every news outlet, there were days when I felt like the only reporter in the building who thought video games were worth covering (I still have bruises from bashing my head against the wall). I have myriad contacts in the business and I respect their livelihoods. I’m passionate about video games, I enjoy video games, I indulge in video games. I also endeavor to balance them with other pursuits and everything in moderation, blah blah blah etc. Yes, obviously I’m not the most hardcore gamer in the world, but I relish my past with them and I absolutely believe in their future both as a consumer and a journalist. OK, moving on.

And so it is with that in mind that I also find myself a 38 year-old father-to-be, and waking up and realizing that it’s high time the video game news industry spit out the pacifier. It’s about changing an outdated image and collectively being adults on a more regular basis. It means that we actively need to push ourselves to evolve and treat games with the level of respect and attention they deserve. In other words, if you’re a gamer who is constantly frustrated every time diminished attention span or aggressive behavior gets blamed on the rise of video games, then this rallying cry is for you. Because it’s not just how the mainstream media tends to make tenuous or inexplicable connections between video games or negative behavior. Or blames them for everything from the rise of the slacker to the fall of the written word. It starts with how those who know the industry portray video games to the rest of the world.

We all know that video games cost as much or more to produce than some movies (not to mention the stunning graphics and groundbreaking effects). So why not more produce stories that scrutinize the economics? Within games, the scope of the story and characters and lore often rivals that of the most popular books. So why shouldn’t they deserve the same artistic respect either? Games evoke epic battles. Or they involve smashing go karts. Or perhaps they offer some combination of both. They are not always high-minded or lofty. But they are an art form, in a sense. That’s not to say that all games are created equal or that some of them aren’t crap. But it’s the repeatedly infantile tone of analyzing and reviewing games that bog down the industry in banal buzz words and overly flashy graphics. We can do better.

To the point, how about fewer references to zombies or pirates or Chuck Norris? The average age of a gamer is over 35 years old (I can remember when 25 was the age being tossed around), so let’s move past the silliness and titillation. And can we cut back on the “T&A” objectification of women? It insults people’s intelligence on so many levels and, furthermore, it’s also unnecessary. Language is a powerful motivator and wielding it in a pointed fashion will accomplish more than The Sword of a Thousand Truths. Perhaps we can also scale back the slang and acronyms while we’re at it; we need to be concise and articulate and thought-provoking without being boring or boorish or bone-headed.

Bottom line: I don’t mean that every review or analysis should be on par with those found in The New Yorker, or grace the pages of U.S. News and World Report. And I don’t suggest that all reviewers or writers should be tarred with the same brush (there are certainly those who already embrace the concept I’ve outlined—I won’t name names right now; I’m not saying it’s revolutionary, just in the minority). And don’t confuse my call for a refined approach to reporting with replacing how we play games. I don’t mean for you to hold your controller with your pinky finger extended. But surely there is room for much ascension within the current spectrum of video game journalism. (Clearly some games or aspects of the industry lend themselves to a more nuanced style than others.) To put it simply: I’m not talking about being stuffy. I’m talking about being smart.

Look, I’m not perfect and always looking to improve my own methods too. Ultimately though, I hope that there’s room for healthy debate and discussion—as long as it’s not childish. It’s time we all grow up. Please.

Editor’s Note: To read more stories by Daniel Sieberg, please visit his blog.

About Daniel Sieberg
Daniel is an Emmy-nominated and award-winning TV correspondent whose work has appeared on CBS News, CNN, ABC News NOW, BBC News, NPR, PBS, CNET, Oprah.com, and The Dr. Oz Show. He is also currently writing a book about his “digital diet” concept.

7 Comments

  1. “It’s time we all grow up.”

    No. I’ll leave that to you. Zombies, pirates, and I suppose even Mr. Norris are fun, and and that’s why I entered this business; to write about my favorite hobby and do a job that I enjoy. Do you really want more coverage of video game economics? Go ahead, start writing.

    Intellectual writing about video games is very prevalent (just ask the numerous freelancers of GamePro, EGM, Bitmob, The Escapist, and so on). When you visit more humorous sites, do you simply scoff, or do you look at the provocative undertones many of them carry? My guess is the latter.

    The fact of the matter is that many people have ran with this idea (so don’t start trying to take credit now), and failed, in large part because such coverage is little more than masturbatory ego-stroking. We end up writing for each other, and not the gamers that support us (I have bills to pay too). And guess what, many gamers enjoy zombies, and pirates, and downing six-packs while shaving lightning bolts into their mullets.

    If you want to approach video games from a purely intellectual angle, all the power to you. But, first you might want to get off that high horse and stop trying to cram everyone else into your mold. Like it or not, there’s room for everyone in this pool.

  2. I certainly agree with you on many levels. Also in my 30’s, I do take the journalism and reporting of video game news very seriously. It is an ever-growing expanse of ideas and potential and it’s not just Hollywood that’s taken notice. I’ve had the pleasure of reporting on behalf of a female perspective and discussing the business of gaming with developers and talent throughout the years. I, too hope that video game news continues to develop and mature, as appropriate.

  3. I completely see where you’re coming from with this. As long as I’ve been freelancing, I’ve been in contact with the Chicago Tribune continually pushing them to try and cover the games industry again in a mature manner without coming off as contrived or cliche. However, it’s been to no avail. All the same, games are going to continue to evolve and the gaming community that initially grew up with them might want to try and do the same.

  4. While the average “gamer” may be in his thirties, do we think the average game journalism reader is anything beyond 20? Many of the comments from various high-traffic websites are littered with suggestions that these journalists, as flawed/immature as their writing may be, is right on par with their targeted audience.

    I hope the gaming journalism world wakes up and shakes up the medium. I worry the industry is a part of a bigger business model (the AAA pays you to hype their game until it’s time to review the game). I think it is more up to the gaming journalism audience to shape the future of gaming news: go to quality websites and blogs like gamasutra and indiesuperstar.

    This also brings to bear another issue: will the public ever realize the subjectivity of previews/reviews? Unfortunately, the things that plague the gaming industry plague every other consumer-driven industry in the USA: music, movies, etc. When will the sheep herding stop? When money doesn’t matter.

  5. NO! This idea you have that video game journalism needs to grow up is bullshit. We don’t need the CNN OR New Yorker of video games because we should not bring the medium down to those levels. Look I understand that bad writing and bad journalists are out there. Hell they are in every aspect of all news not just video game related stories. I also understand the call for different types of stories not just previews and reviews. But this is entertainment and the journalism needs to reflect that as well. People don’t watch CNN or Fox News or read Reuters because it’s fun. They do it to stay informed. But if I’m going to take time out of my day to read a story about video games then it needs to be entertaining.

    I realize that we need to change the way people see the industry but we can’t do that by changing who gamers are or the lifestyle and culture. Video game Journalism is a fairly new medium that is ever evolving. We need to figure out how to make it work for everyone without changing what it is to be a gamer. The stories you are asking for about the production of games are there and one way that makes them very unique is that they are coming from the ones who are producing them. Irrational is a great example of this with the Irrational Behavior podcast and the news stories they post but they are not the only ones who do this far from it. I understand it is way to much to ask someone to go to every developers website to get there news stories but this is one way we can try to improve to bring these stories together. Also look at how different this is to movies or books. With those mediums there are just rumors, reviews, and statistic stories and that’s about it.

    This is new territory for everyone and we need to improve but we can’t forget who we are or what you are writing about. Yes we need to write about cosplay and otaku, and yes we need to keep the slang and the terms however immature they may be. We need to keep the not so inside jokes about the industry.No we shouldn’t be derogatory, bias, rude, or hateful to anyone or anything. But we shouldn’t shy away from more mature areas either sex and violence are part of every industry out there and there should be articles written on them in the gaming industry as well. We need to learn to be more welcoming into people who are just getting into gaming and a little more understanding. Video games will never be on par with any “news outlet” out there. It will not happen. It never has with books or movies either. If you want to write about video games then write for the gamers not people who you feel look down on you for your passions.

    I’m not a journalist. Hell this is probably the first thing I have written in years. I’m not a hardcore gamer either. I play when I can. But I love the industry and I love to read about all aspects of it. We can’t forget the most important thing here is that this is entertainment. The journalism should be entertaining as well and it should speak to it’s audience not who we are wanting to be it’s audience.Joe down the street is never going to care to read a video game related post ever. Gamers are. Most people have a preconceived notion about everything and there are not many times people are going to change there views. The reason the average gamer is now 35 is because the people who think games are the devil are dying off and new generations who know and understand better are coming in. Maybe we just need to play the waiting game.

    Sorry for rambling.

  6. Maybe what is needed is an outlet for the mature gamer to get mature information. As John said above, what is the big market for video games magazines? The 20somethings.

    I will admit I am 28. However, I appreciate the more mature reviews and reports. I just found out about this page today and am loving it!

    Also, I would like to give a shout out to one of my more favorite game reporters. Stephen Totilo of Kotaku is probably one of the most prolific journalist of games today.

  7. Alberto Bolton

    This reads like a manifesto for this site. Which is exciting because games journalism is pretty embarrassing most of the time, this site just earned a place in my bookmarks

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