There is a pressing question in Video Game Journalism, and it’s the following:
“Is Lady Dimitrescu the new Bowsette?”
So I am presented with yet another sponsored article on Facebook by a well-known video game site. A fantastic clickbait on which I click to understand, out of pure curiosity, what the author point is. The answer is, of course, none, since the only thing the two characters have in common is that they are yet another temporary trend for a month or so, generating a (honestly great) wave of porn. However the article itself is not bad, contextualizing the characters and filling in the number of lines necessary to complete the article.
The international situation is obviously not different as Kotaku, the top site of the genre with about 13 millions daily views, inform us that it has calculated the height of the new Resident Evil villain from the demo. I then check the active comments: 173. I scroll a little forward, a second article in which the demo itself is analyzed in detail, detailing the first impressions: 17 comments.
Actually it shouldn’t come as a surprise: journalistic articles (interesting as it should be specified) never reach, nor they will, the same level of interest compared to junk, clickbaity, controversial articles or simply the ones based on new internet trends which, as is well known, change continuously in the fluid sea of the web.
It is not a new analysis, nor unique of the world of video games: the crisis in the world of journalism, new media, fake news and the link with social networks is a topic that has been repeatedly treated by much more authoritative sources than myself, and has drastically changed the way journalism is done or received. Videogame journalism has not been exempt of that, suffering from a much more pressing internal crisis: what is video game journalism? Can it be considered as such?
The riddle of Video Game Journalism
(Note: I have great respect for those who write video games for work, especially in Italy. But respect for individuals does not mean that I cannot talk about the general situation of journalism itself )
If we talk about the Italian situation of being a journalist, in theory, one must be registered in the official Registry of Journalists. How many editors can claim to be such in the gaming environment? A quick search, randomly looking for the name of some journalists in the registry database, would say “few”, even if it would be interesting to hear the data confirmed and hear the opinion from someone in the environment, rather than trusting my 30 second search . What qualifications must a videogame journalist have? Should you know Game Design and Development? And above all, what does it have to say?
It is the first thing you think about and the main reason for buying paper magazines at the time. Finding out what a game was about, if it was worth spending the part of the salary (or pocket money, depending on age) hardly saved. This has generated, and even that has been talked about for a long time, contradictions, sponsorships, disputes and pressure from publishers as, willing or not, they influence the sales figures to the public, living off previews and needing copies for the reviews before a release, in a frantic race to outdo the competition of hundreds of other simlar sites and blogs.
Reviews, let’s remember, which often happens to be poor commercials for big AAA titles. It is not to blame, after all there are no real standards to evaluate a video game as a piece of work, the media itself still lacking a true definition. Film criticism, a title enunciated with a deep voice in cultural salons, full of professional dignity, can be based on recognized criteria: photography, direction, screenplay … There are schools and professional titles to help understand the medium. But for videogames journalism or critique almost none of this exists: the “ludic” and “interactive” component of the media has not yet been framed in a stable definition. And how to do this, if the media itself is linked by its very nature to its electrical component and technological development? By what means can REZ be compared to the 20th FIFA or Madden?
Lacking a definition
Professional reviewers will often talk about “graphics” and “gameplay”, but how can we talk about them if there is no stable definition for them either? The answer is obvious: it can’t. There are too many contexts and definitions, different for author, audience and recipients. The very concept of art is changeable and elusive and often the games themselves, by the intention of their authors, do not want to be part of it, continuing an often empty debate in the arguments of both sides, pro and against.
I have been interested in Game Studies for years, realizing the empty void that the world of academic studies has towards the videogame media. There is a lack of skills, method, analysis: above all, the dignity of the media itself is lacking in public opinion and on the part of traditional media. Despite being one of the largest markets in the world, larger than the music and cinema market put together, video game as a media is seen as a secondary pastime, sterile or sometimes, in the wake of an election campaign to get a few more votes in the total absence of other arguments, as something dangerous. And video game journalism can do nothing but follow, lacking true recognition, rules, criteria or even guidelines other than editorial ones.
There are few examples of an attempt at institutionalization, as well as scant or rare public debates or discussions, lacking the basic tools for a real debate. Opinions are personal and generic, as the same game can be evaluated from completely different points of view. One of the organizers of the Game Studies club at the time of university told me about the importance of evaluating a video game even on arbitrary bases such as, for example, the quality of a speedrun. Although I am of the impression that, like any other creative media, should be always considered what the author actually wants to express throught his work, the guy touched an interesting point: namely how different people with different objectives evaluate a game, a ludic experience, in a completely different way .
The logic of market and media understanding
I am a fighting game player, I have both participated and organized tournaments: my point of view is different from that of a person who takes the controller in his hand for the first time: not surprisingly, the difficulty the new generation fighting games is facing is venturing into the market and becoming attractive for a larger slice of public, both appraising those who consider themselves “professional” players and the generic market. That of fighting games is a separate matter that I would like to analyze with greater detail later on, being dictated by mechanics and market reasoning linked to their environment of birth and development, the arcades, but it makes easier to understand how the videogame media is linked, even more than any other media, to the logic of the market and public appreciation.
Not to mention the fragmentation of genres and sub-genres in continuous creation and evolution, often escaping a stereotyped definition and evoking new terms, often in accurate marketing operations. This also have an unintended consequence: the poor “preparation” of the journalists themselves. Quotation marks are a must as you cannot have a definition, once again, for what it means to “be prepared” in the videoludic media. Does it mean being good at playing? There is no standardized definition for what it means to “be good”. Be prepared in the history of the genre? Although there are books that retrace the main stages of the media, or others that attempt an academic approach, an all-encompassing guide does not exist, and the variety of titles themselves would make individual research very difficult. Being competent in videogame criticism? As we have seen before, there are no stable criteria for videogame criticism, at most a series of umbrella characteristics with a shady and variable meaning (Gameplay, graphics …)
By that reasoning it follows that an “objective”, “professional” and “standardized” criticism cannot, at the moment, exist. Of course, we have arrived at the extreme cases in which, contrary to what one would expect, some of the major video game sites are famous for their total incompetence not so much in writing, but in playing the video games themselves, understanding with extreme difficulty the language of the media. The extreme case of the Cuphead demo (beaten at the time by a 5-year-old boy) is infamous, but it is only an illustrious example, and certainly not the first, of the current situation. And the traditional media, the big publishing houses? In Italy, by historical national newspapers (I am not speaking of specialized sites), we are limited to copying and pasting international articles, translated with Google Translate without proofreading. No dignity is given to the genre, obtaining in return views from younger readers and, consequently, money and visibility.
A clueless conclusion
Until now I just talked nonsense, examining some points of how videogame journalism lacks, just like the media it deals with, dignity and professional classification defined by the society in which it is located. Limiting to writing reviews and staying afloat with seas of clickbait articles will only work for a limited period of time, as smaller publishers will inevitably lose the challenge against the international giants, undoubtedly ahead in timing and visibility. I do not consider myself so arrogant to propose a solution, but I would have a suggestion, especially at a time when every videogame is visible from start to finish on the net, in a context in which streaming and independent videos are now masters for the new generations. I’m not talking about the dignitization of the media itself, that would deserve a much bigger cultural change than I can afford, but a small change of direction. Each video game is a media in its own right, with a unique language: just as we have specializations in the traditional journalistic field (a football reporter has different skills, language, and experiences than a contemporary political reporter), so the video game reporter should be competent and passionate about a specific genre or with a specific type of approach, to the videogame media.
Of course I don’t count a fuck and I’m just rambling pointlessly like an old madman on my blog with 0 views, so GG EASY