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The New Games Journalism
December 9, 2004 9:01 AM   Subscribe

The New Games Journalism is a manifesto written earlier this year in an attempt to re-shape the way that video game reviews are written, moving away from a stats-based view (these are the weapons, the graphics quality is X, the A.I. is as good as Y), and toward a more narrative approach. The goal, essentially, should be to convey to the reader what it's actually like to play the game. Be sure to follow the link to "Bow, Nigger" as an example. This review of Eve Online (pdf) is another good example. Are other areas of media criticism in need of a revolution?
posted by mkultra (20 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the article, the idea boils down to two points:
1) The worth of gaming lies in the gamer not the game.
2) Write travel journalism to Imaginary Places.
posted by mkultra at 9:03 AM on December 9, 2004


I don't know much of anything about video game journalism, and don't exactly care to.

That said, "Bow, Nigger" was extremely engaging. Thanks a lot for the link.
posted by mragreeable at 9:26 AM on December 9, 2004


I like the sound of New Games Journalism, but the problem remains that it's making blend of subjective and objective ideas completely subjective. A blend of both is necessary; you need to hang narrative off the A.I./Graphics/Sound is.. statements.

Bow, Nigger while compelling reading is a rubbish review of Jedi Knight II and I can understand why it was tossed by the original magazine.

That said, Kieron Gillen (the writer of the manifesto) does write some good freelance reviews for Eurogamer.net (where I hang out when I'm not on Meta or Ilx).
posted by Navek Rednam at 9:57 AM on December 9, 2004


That was a great piece, amazing when compared to the things that show up on IGN or wherever, but it doesn't tell me a lot about the game. Was it fun to play, did it look good, is there any replay value and is the multiplayer worthwhile? The rest I'll find out for myself when I get there. It's never going to be like reviewing a movie.
posted by yerfatma at 9:59 AM on December 9, 2004


This Ask Metafilter offers up some good alternatives to mainstream video game journalism.

I enjoy the Guardian's blog on video games, myself.
posted by haqspan at 10:02 AM on December 9, 2004


The main issues I see in games journalism:

- Not fully playing the game before writing reviews. It's not uncommon for games to start off strong and then either fail to offer anything new, drastically change in difficulty or gameplay style, or not even work properly.

- Treating previews as reviews, and hype from the publisher/developer as previews. When an as yet unreleased product wins a "Game of the Year" award there's something seriously wrong.

- Assigning people to review games in a genre they admit they don't even like.

- On a somewhat related note, publishers/developers that post doctored or processed screenshots as if they were coming directly from the game engine, and sites/publications that accept it without question. Compare some of the EQ2 screenshots out there with what the thing actually looks like :P
posted by Foosnark at 10:26 AM on December 9, 2004


It's weird talking about "new game journalism" when game journalism, in general, is about 10 years old. New medium, new industry.

I think the biggest problem facing games journalism is the lack of editorial independence. Bad reviews are almost never written in the online world and even in magazines most of the negative reviews are of third tier products by tiny companies that don't matter. The journalists are too close to the people promoting the games.

If you want to go to "high journalism", I think we're still a long way before people treat computer games as a serious art form and write relevant game criticism. It took awhile for movies to get treated seriously, too.
posted by Nelson at 10:40 AM on December 9, 2004


Assigning people to review games in a genre they admit they don't even like.

I have the opposite complaint, usually sites will have a rpg fan review rpgs, a rts fan review rtss, etc. The result is every major game is rated on a scale from 8 to 10. Like, Roger Ebert will admit he doesn't like most Adam Sandler films but reviews them anyway.

Sometimes if a review is by someone who doesn't like a genre it can be interesting because you can find out wether is trancends the genre or not.
posted by bobo123 at 10:48 AM on December 9, 2004


I'd like to point out that neither Bow, Nigger nor my Eve Online piece was actually a review as such. PC Gamer UK carries reviews in addition to these feature pieces. Both of the linked articles are simply articles about our individual experiences with games. Both Eve and Jedi Knight II were reviewed on release (and previewed before that), but since we've played them for months after release we felt that we should write about our feelings and experiences outside of that cumbersome preview/review framework. They are a way of talking about how gaming is an ongoing process and not something throwaway. We don't always play the newest thing on the shelf, particularly when it comes to multiplayer games.

The NGJ material is by and large (although not exclusively) a mode of writing about games that sits outside the usual review and preview circus and is not linked to the kind of coverage that they generate. It has sprung from a need to talk about games as something that has meaning to the everday lives of us as people, rather than as paid 'critics'.

People who found Bow, Nigger interesting should keep an eye on Always Black's site for his follow up piece, Possessing Barbie, which I think is even more effective and a stunning example of what the NGJ approach can achieve.
posted by Rossignol at 11:12 AM on December 9, 2004


I disagree, bobo123. With movies, you only lose ~2 hours of your life watching a movie you know you won't like. With games, you're asked to invest a significant chunk of time. Of course, the upshot is that you wind up with a lot of "fanboy" reviews, but I think that's a problem of the state of game reviewers in general- they're hardcore gamers, not critics.

- Not fully playing the game before writing reviews. It's not uncommon for games to start off strong and then either fail to offer anything new, drastically change in difficulty or gameplay style, or not even work properly.


Yeah, but as someone who did freelance game reviews for a while, I know this is easier said than done. If it's not a puzzle or pure multi-player game, it's usually LONG. Unless you can devote your entire waking life to the game (and most reviewer's can't, as they have full-time jobs as well), it takes a while to get through it. Meanwhile, the window of opportunity for getting a review out while the game is "hot" is slipping by.

What game developers really need to do is ship "reviewer" versions of their games that come with a set of saves throughout the progression of the game.
posted by mkultra at 11:14 AM on December 9, 2004


Hey, Rossignol! Always nice to get some primary source perspective here. Thanks for the insight, and keep up the good work. :)
posted by mkultra at 11:20 AM on December 9, 2004


Unless you can devote your entire waking life to the game (and most reviewer's can't, as they have full-time jobs as well), it takes a while to get through it.

Like I hear most book reviewers don't actually 'read' all the books they review ("Infinite Jest is long, man.") I don't think I've read a single professional review of Dragon Quest VII where the reviewer admitted to finishing it.
posted by bobo123 at 11:38 AM on December 9, 2004


My first reaction: Yeah, let's make all game reviews just like Pitchfork!

If this happened, I would vomit green fire.

How about, instead, we try to write game reviews that are based less on the money and swag the publisher gave your magazine and more on the actual game itself. (as Nelson said) That might be both more doable AND! less pretentious. Two birds with one stone!

I'm all for interesting writing on interactive entertainment, but when I shop for a game I would kind of like to know if it's any good.
posted by selfnoise at 12:56 PM on December 9, 2004


I couldn't finish reading "Bow, Nigger." Guy encounters 12 year old asshole in deathmatch, blah blah reader loses interest. Nothing about the game is told. If this piece is to be some model for game reviews, it's a shitty idea.

I agree that mainstream game journalism is equally worthless, possibly more so for the poor writing and epidemic unwillingness to piss off publishers, but this is crap. You want to turn out a new review style? Weep for Old Man Murray, give up, and go home.
posted by majick at 3:08 PM on December 9, 2004


Like I said a couple of months ago, the piece'd've been more effective for me if I hadn't known that his opponent was some spotty 12-year-old with an attitude.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:26 PM on December 9, 2004


It's weird talking about "new game journalism" when game journalism, in general, is about 10 years old.

Thanks, actually, for reminding me. It's been so long since I'd thought about my only high school job, reviewing Apple ][ games for K-Power Magazine (ObLink, just to an Apple ad that appeared there). Anyway that was 20 years ago, young'un.

How cool was that?!?! Getting paid minimum wage to sit in front of a computer and get terrible grades!!! I do remember playing some lousy games. I proudly recall that my editor didn't filter my negative comments -- perhaps whatever payola system may hold today hadn't been worked out yet.

Earlier examples include Creative Computing (1982), with article titles like "The expert's guide to beating Asteroids, Battlezone, Galaxian, RipOff, and Space Invaders", "Invaders for the TRS-80", and "Escape from Castle Wolfenstein".
(It wasn't an FPS yet.) BYTE magazine dates from 1975 but I didn't find an article archive, so I don't know when they started game reviews.
posted by Aknaton at 6:59 PM on December 9, 2004


I couldn't finish reading "Bow, Nigger." Guy encounters 12 year old asshole in deathmatch, blah blah reader loses interest. Nothing about the game is told. If this piece is to be some model for game reviews, it's a shitty idea.

And this is the problem -- the perception of game journalism. It's not a piece meant to explain the game, but a piece about an experience within a game. I think too many people inadvertently expect anything about games to be about how many hours it takes, how the graphics are, how it sounds, etc etc. Even if it's not a review.

Of course, that expectation arises thanks to a decade worth of shitty game "journalism", but it's still there.

Also see:
http://www.kotaku.com/gaming/media-criticism/hemingway-and-new-game-journalism-027320.php
http://www.igja.org/
posted by mkn at 11:17 AM on December 10, 2004


And this is the problem -- the perception of game journalism. It's not a piece meant to explain the game, but a piece about an experience within a game.

No, the problem is that reading about other people's experiences in a game is inherently boring. This is why game journalism focuses on review-type articles.
posted by kindall at 12:00 PM on December 10, 2004


"It's not a piece meant to explain the game, but a piece about an experience within a game."

I get that. I also get that there are 12 year old assholes deathmatching out there. But there's just no point whatsoever to devoting an entire article to the premise. I gain nothing by it except a distinct impression the author is either an idiot, or takes me for one.

Did you actually read OMM? It is the golden standard by which all game writing must be measured. It's nothing but experiences within a game. Or near a game. Or going to the store to get the game. Or counting the number of seconds of gameplay before a crate or sewer appears in the game. The difference between OMM and "Bow," as far as New Games Journalism goes, is that only one of them sucks.

I agree utterly that games journalism should change. It's just that if the result resembles "Bow, Nigger" more than OMM, it won't be a change for the better.
posted by majick at 4:49 PM on December 10, 2004


No, the problem is that reading about other people's experiences in a game is inherently boring. This is why game journalism focuses on review-type articles.

To respond to kindall and majick, and all the rest...

I can't honestly believe we've read the seem piece here. 'Bow, Nigger' by Always_Black, right? I'll resist going over board with superlatives, but it's a tremendously written piece and I can't for the life of me see why you guys can't see that.

You say it's boring, I say it's anything but. Maybe it requires a certain amount of intelligence or participation from the reader, I don't know. What I do know is that when I read 'Bow, Nigger' I experience something beyond reading lines of characters on a page. Instead of reading a list of factual summations - the game has x maps, the game has x characters - I'm reading about what it's like to play the game.

To take it as a piece about some guy teeing off against some 12 year old is to entirely miss the point. What it tells you is how JKII captures the atmosphere of the Star Wars films - or can capture. That this fight, for A_B, was important for whatever reason. This comes across in the text; at the beginning the reader is moved by the 'bow, nigger' comment, as the piece continues the reader is drawn into the conflict, and at the end the reader feels the same beamish joy that the author did.

Now, either you're just not able to sit down and read a page of text, or you lack the insight to correctly interact with it, but it doesn't change the fact that 'Bow, Nigger' and all well-written NGL is infinitely more engrossing and informative than any standard "review-type article". Your particular comments only cement this opinion in my mind.
posted by Rob Brown at 8:09 PM on December 10, 2004


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