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 It’s about changing an outdated image and collectively being adults on a more regular basis.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.