Thursday, 1 December 2011

New Game Journalism

The first problem I face when trying to write about New Game Journalism is coming to terms with exactly what it is. I've been an avid reader of video game magazines since I've been a gamer. I've moved through various magazines over the years such as; Games Master, Edge, games, PlayStation, Xbox 360 Gamer and have most recently been a subscriber to PC Gamer for the last 4 years. I've always been aware that those reviews and previews of games aren't necessarily going to be the best or most reliable form of information about a game, but what else to we have to go on?

The issue with any game journalism is going to be the same anywhere you look. How do you know its unbiased towards or against the company that made the game? You are just reading someone else's opinion on a game which is ultimately going to be biased from their perspective anyway. I used to watch a lot of videos on the website GameTrailers a few years back. Those videos would have an affect on which games I bought, but not because of what they said, but because I had a chance to actually see the game footage, something magazines couldn't show me as clearly. I noticed a shift in the way GameTrailers responded to games in recent years, most noticeably big title games. That and the new feature of massive advertisements all around the pages gave me the impression they had somewhat, if not entirely, sold themselves to the game companies. Their reviews and previews at that point just began to irritate as they would overlook huge gameplay flaws in some games while nitpicking at tiny ones in others. The chance to see game footage just wasn't enough of a pull to overcome this new heavily biased feel of the website.

Games journalism is always going to be inherently flawed as your viewing something through someone else's opinioned writings. A list of what the game is, isn't, has and hasn't got wouldn't be much fun to read, nor give a good impression of the game and it would still be biased. One might say a game has a good story line, another person could buy the game on this reasoning and completely disagree. The way we view the world and games is always going to be biased so taking everything at face value, including games journalism, is just foolish. I still buy gaming magazines, of various titles because I'm interested in what people have to say, and the chance to hear and see what people have thought of the game. Its never going to massively impact on my purchases, its just nice to read about.

So good games journalists need to be neutral, well as much as possible. I think that's a fair assumption, not one that is always going to be adhered to, but we can hope that what we're reading is generally done from someones fair point of view. You wouldn't want to read a review of a new real time strategy game, from someone who can't stand the genre, because its likely to paint the game in a grimmer light. Equally someone who loves the genre might overemphasis how awesome it is. So there needs to be some middle ground clearly, a sense of objectivity to it all and fairness.

I think a ranking system for games or a criteria to mark them against helps in this sense. All games are different of course and I'm not talking about some written list to compare the game against with a simple - yes/no. Its more a guideline for reviewers so you know what your reading is tackling some of the main aspects games should have, within relevance to the game type. I personally don't see the problem with a score system for rating games, its a sort of summery to the reviewers whole opinion and a way to quickly compare games. You don't have to agree with them or even pay attention to that little 7/10 at the end of the page but its just an opinion and a guide like everything else.

I think that's the main point on reviews and how you absorb the information and its relevance.
Understanding that it is and always be someone else's opinion. Its not always going to be honest and its not always going to line up with your own but nor is it the only opinion of that game. One magazine/online journalist might adore a game another might hate it, there will always be a differing of opinions. As long as they can and do justify those opinions then its up to you to digest that information and take what you will from it. I've never let a bad review of a game stop me buying it if I personally thought I'd enjoy it. Nor have I bought a game I don't have interest in just because of a shining review. When I want to read about a game before buying it, I look around, I spread the net and gather many different opinions and formulate a general understanding of how the game is perceived by the others that play it and if I'm likely to enjoy it or not.

Games journalism is always going to have flaws and differing opinions because we all have them and we are just reading someone else's opinions. You've chosen to read someone else's opinion not fact when you pick up that magazine or go onto that website. Read it for what it is, an opinion.

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